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Joel Johnson Leads U.S. U18 Women into Another World Championship

By Gary R. Blockus, 12/27/17, 2:15PM EST


Team USA seeking a fourth straight world title at the Under-18 level

When opportunity knocks, it’s Joel Johnson’s time to shine.

Down 2-0 to Canada in the second period of the 2016 International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 Women’s World Championship, Johnson, the Team USA head coach, exhibited no signs of panic or frustration.

“We were never happy to be down 2-0 in a world-championship game,” said defenseman Madeline Wethington, “but his composure in the game, his focus to just get one goal and build off that, he’s an incredible coach and I’m excited to have the opportunity to learn more from him these next few weeks.”

Team USA not only got that one goal, it got the next goal, and the next goal after that in overtime to claim the world championship for the second straight year under Johnson’s leadership.

Johnson, the associate head coach of the University of Minnesota women’s hockey team, is in his fourth year as head coach of the U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team. He leads the new squad into the world championships for a fourth straight year and the opportunity for the team’s fourth straight gold medal.

The 2018 IIHF Under-18 Women's World Championship runs Jan. 6-13 in Dmitrov, Russia, with Team USA playing in Group A along with Canada, Russia and Sweden. The U.S. and Canada have faced off for the gold medal in all 10 previous world championships, with the Americans winning six of those.

The U.S., finalists in all previous 10 seasons of the world championships, are led by a passionate teacher and realist. Despite the success of the team under his tenure, he remains focused on the task at hand.

“It sounds cliché,” said the 43-year-old Johnson, who is from White Bear Lake, Minnesota, “but when you have great players, sometimes it’s easier to stay out of the way than to over-coach. That’s the way I feel about it. The things our coaching staff have been able to do over the past few years is provide focus, provide passion.”

Johnson credits great goaltending for carrying the young Americans to gold medals the last three years, starting off with identical 3-2 overtime wins over Canada in the 2015 and 2016 gold-medal games before beating the Canadians 3-1 last year.

“After that, we’ve really been able to play with speed and highlight the skating and puck possession,” Johnson said. “One of the things that happens with these Under-18 events is that it’s very hard to introduce completely new programs and systems. You have to let the players be who they are. Sometimes they go where you want them to, sometimes they make mistakes.”

And that’s where his mindset comes into play. Johnson began his career as a high school teacher, coaching hockey, soccer and baseball, following a path that led to college opportunities and ultimately roles with USA Hockey dating back to the early 2000s.

Johnson served in a variety of roles with the Under-18 women, including assistant coach for the 2012 IIHF Under-18 Women's World Championship, the 2013 Women's Under-18 Series and for U.S. Women's Select Festivals. That all led up to the 2014-15 season when Reagan Carey, director of women’s hockey at USA Hockey, named him the U18 women’s head coach.

Despite the tentacles of complexity a head coach faces with each group of players, Johnson is driven by one prevailing guideline.

“The simple opportunity to make a difference in people lives,” he explained. “A lot of times, whether that’s on the ice or off the ice, that’s teaching them something new. When that light bulb goes on for people, it’s a rare feeling. Giving them the opportunity to accomplish what they pursue is important.

“I always tell players not to define themselves by individual accomplishments. I tell them our team will be measured by the color of the medal, but we will not be defined by that. We will be defined by our values.”

Johnson draws those values from a tight-knit family that includes wife Shannon, a coach and former athlete, and children Megan and Jacob, who absolutely love to sit around the television and watch NHL rivalry games as part of family bonding.

“The opportunities I do are only possible because of the support she gives,” he said of Shannon, “and she’s been an incredible resource for me having been involved in athletics at a higher level.”

And the opportunity to lead a group of the brightest young hockey talent in the United States proved easy to embrace.

“I have a tremendous sense of pride and patriotism as I get these opportunities,” Johnson said. “For me, just to be involved, to coach young great athletes and to represent our country, there’s no greater honor as a professional coach.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Sights & Sounds

U.S. Schedule

Date Opponent Location Result U.S. Player of the Game
Sat., Jan. 6 Sweden
Preliminary Round
Ice Palace
Dmitrov, Russia
W (OT), 2-1 Makenna Webster
Sun., Jan. 7 Russia
Preliminary Round
Ice Palace
Dmitrov, Russia
W, 5-3 Britta Curl
Tues., Jan. 9 Canada
Preliminary Round
Ice Palace
Dmitrov, Russia
W, 6-2 Taylor Heise
Fri., Jan. 12 Canada
Ice Palace
Dmitrov, Russia
W (SO), 4-3 Casey O'Brien
Sat., Jan. 13 Sweden
Gold-Medal Game
Ice Palace
Dmitrov, Russia
W, 9-3 Dominique Petrie

2018 U18 Women's Worlds News