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Leader-Post article (Johnson gets players' attention)

April 12 2012 at 7:26 AM
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N. W. Bruin  (Login NW_Bruin_GM)

Response to Edmonton Journal article (Birthday celebration bonanza)

Johnson gets players' attention

By Ian Hamilton, Leader-Post

April 12, 2012

University of Regina men's hockey head coach Todd Johnson during a news confernece on Wednesday at the Co-operators Centre.

Photograph by: Don Healy, Leader-Post , Leader-Post

Todd Johnson's resume helped him get the job as head coach of the University of Regina Cougars.

It also should help him earn credibility with his players.

"You hear (a guy) with a resume like that coming in and talking about the energy, the excitement and passion to win, that transfers over to the players in the dressing room," fourth-year forward Ryan Sawka said Wednesday after Johnson was officially introduced as the new head coach of the U of R men's hockey team. "Getting that buzz back and talking about winning, that's exciting going forward ...

"When you look at his resume on the ice, you have to give him that respect immediately. When he tells you something, it's easier to relate, it's easier to put in perspective and it's easier to buy in with that perspective."

Johnson, 40, was hired Monday to replace Blaine Sautner, who retired from coaching at the end of the 2011-12 Canada West season.

Among his accomplishments as a player, Johnson won a Memorial Cup with the WHL's Kamloops Blazers, was the captain of the expansion Red Deer Rebels, won two Canada West titles with the Calgary Dinos, was the MVP of Canada West and represented Canada at the World University Games. He also was a two-time Academic All-Canadian.

As a coach, he was a member of the Kootenay Ice's staff when it won a WHL title and went to the Memorial Cup.

Now, Johnson is hoping to rebuild a Cougars team that has struggled in recent seasons - and the players can't wait.

"(The coaching change) will be a whole transformation, a straight culture change in the dressing room," said forward Troy Hunter, who was a rookie last season. "It'll bring new life back to the program. It's definitely what we needed."

Sawka, who was injured for most of the 2011-12 campaign, noted the thing the Cougars needed most was an attitude change.

"We have to get the excitement back in the dressing room and the expectation of winning," he said. "That has to be at the forefront for us to be successful. Last year and in previous years, we lost that vision of passion and engagement in the game. That was the real difference.

"As a whole, our passion was not there. It's a slippery slope. When you start losing, it's tough to recover."

Johnson told those on hand Wednesday in the Cougars' dressing room at the Co-operators Centre that he will demand accountability from the players, no matter if they're the team's best players or its fourth-liners.

He admitted he doesn't know many of the players, nor has he watched game film yet. Those who are eligible to return next season will have to show him they belong.

"If players come back with a good attitude and they want to work hard no matter what their ability is, they'll stay," said Johnson, who expects his charges to work equally as hard academically. "If they come back and their attitude is not where I think it should be and they don't want to change it, maybe they should move on.

"That's a sad thing to say, but that's just the reality of the game."

Johnson was an offensive player during his career, but he noted he since has learned that defence wins. He vowed that the Cougars "will be a tough team to play against" and, with the right additions to the roster this off-season, he believes Regina can make the playoffs next season.

There will have to be some adjustments made, however.

"We don't know what to expect (from Johnson) coming in, so I think guys are nervous," Hunter said when asked about the impact of a coaching change. "But apparently he brings a hard work aspect to things."

Johnson suggested there likely will be a grace period for the players to adjust in the early stages of the season as they try to get to know Johnson and vice versa.

"I'd hate to put a time on it, but it's definitely going to be a few months," Johnson said. "I want to see how they act, how they behave and their tendencies, and then I'll try to instil what I want the culture of the team to be and what I want the atmosphere to be."

© Copyright (c) The Regina Leader-Post

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