Johnson takes Cougars' reins
By Ian Hamilton, Leader-Post
April 10, 2012
During his hockey career, Todd Johnson scored his share of goals.
He accomplished another one Monday.
"When I came into (the WHL), I had a goal of trying to be a head coach within two years - and that's exactly what's happening," said Johnson, who spent the past two WHL seasons as an assistant coach with the Kootenay Ice. "If you don't have that goal to be a head coach, there are other jobs to be in."
Johnson, a 40-year-old who grew up in Regina, became a head coach for the first time Monday when he was hired to run the University of Regina Cougars men's hockey team. He replaces Blaine Sautner, who retired from coaching at the end of the 2011-12 Canada West season.
Dick White, the U of R's director of athletics, said the school was looking to change the culture of the men's hockey program. He believes it has done just that by hiring Johnson, who was one of four men on the short list.
"We saw what we believed is a future star as a head coach," White said. "(Ice head coach) Kris Knoblauch and (Ice president and general manager) Jeff Chynoweth could not say enough about his readiness to move to the next step ...
"There will be a learning curve; I acknowledge that and Todd acknowledges that. But we've had success here with people getting their first head-coaching jobs."
White pointed to the likes of former women's basketball head coach Christine Stapleton, current track and field head coach Bruce McCannel and current wrestling boss Leo McGee, all of whom have guided Cougars teams to conference or CIS championships.
In White's mind, Johnson has the same kind of potential.
"One of the things we noticed about Todd is success follows him around," said White, who was joined on the search committee by Cougars defenceman Russ Nielsen, U of R women's hockey head coach Sarah Hodges, and Harold Riemer, an associate dean in the U of R's faculty of kinesiology and health studies.
"He won a Memorial Cup as a player (with the WHL's Kamloops Blazers). He won a Canada West championship when he was at the University of Calgary. He went to the Memorial Cup on the coaching staff of the Kootenay Ice. He was the Canada West MVP, an academic AllCanadian, he was on the CIS all-star team that played an NCAA all-star team - it's impressive."
Johnson played three seasons in the WHL (1990-93), splitting his time with the Moose Jaw Warriors, Blazers and Red Deer Rebels. He then spent five seasons with the Dinos, earning conference MVP honours after the 1996-97 campaign. A pro career followed, during which he spent one season with the CHL's Wichita Thunder and five seasons in Germany.
He worked at the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy in Kelowna for seven seasons before joining the Ice. Since Kootenay's season is over, Johnson will take the Cougars' reins immediately.
Johnson knows he'll face an adjustment as a head coach, but he believes it'll be manageable.
"I've got a lot of responsibility here in Kootenay," he said. "Kris and I worked as partners. Obviously, he had the last say being the head coach, but he gave me a lot of responsibility. We both played a big role in our dressing room and in our on-ice activities. I don't think it's going to be a huge adjustment for me."
Johnson's ties to the WHL were important to the search committee. The Cougars have struggled to get frontline WHL players to join the program in recent seasons and White hopes Johnson can change that trend.
"It's all about interest," said Johnson, who has a bachelor of education degree from the U of C. "I think back to when I was choosing where I wanted to go. I ended up going to Calgary and part of the reason was (then-Dinos head coach) Willie Desjardins and the interest he showed in me.
"He didn't pull any punches in terms of what he could offer me, he was very honest with me and that weighed heavily on my decision. I think that's exactly what I'm going to be doing with the players I go after: 'Here's an opportunity for you to play and be a big part of rebuilding a program.' That's something I think is exciting."
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