MADISON, Wis. -- Mark Johnson is as accomplished in the world of hockey as they come.
Yet among all of Johnson’s superlatives, what he did with in the winter of 1980 still conjures up raw emotions. That was evident Saturday when the University of Wisconsin immortalized the No. 10 jersey Johnson wore as a standout player for the Badgers in the late 1970s. Johnson’s retired No. 10 was raised to the rafters of Madison’s Kohl Center, alongside a white banner with red letters inscribed with “It’s a great day for hockey,” a phrase made famous by “Badger Bob” Johnson, Mark’s father and longtime coach of Wisconsin’s men’s hockey team. The dedication took place before Wisconsin’s game with Ohio State.
Before raising Johnson’s number, Brian Posick, Badger hockey play-by-play broadcaster, listed off many of Johnson’s accolades to a sold-out crowd of 15,329. When Posick said Johnson was the leading scorer on the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, the group that shocked the sports world with an upset of the powerful Soviets and eventual goal-medal win over Finland, a roar spread through the arena, drowning out Posick’s voice.
Saturday’s dedication also featured a riveting video package with clips of Johnson dashing down the ice, firing goals into the net for Team USA. The video included comments from legendary broadcaster Al Michaels, who covered the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team, and teammate Mike Eruzione, a key contributor on Team USA’s historic march for gold.
“I met Mark before the Olympics in 1980, and when I saw Mark, I saw a guy who was just very steady and very solid, obviously he came from a hockey family,” Michaels said. “He was very good mentally. Mark Johnson, I thought, might be their best player.
“Mark, this is a tremendous honor for you. I loved watching you play, congratulations.”
Eruzione, captain of the 1980 team, said he was blown away by Johnson’s prowess on the ice.
“Boy, he was just so smart,” Eruzione said. “They talk about Michael Jordan being able to see the whole court; that was Mark. He was able to see everything.”Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez said Johnson has experienced greatness at every level of hockey. In high school, he led Madison Memorial to a state championship. At UW, he captured a national title in 1977 while playing for his father, who died of brain cancer in 1991. Johnson is UW’s all-time leading scorer with 125 goals in only 125 games. As a player for the U.S. men’s national team, Johnson is the all-time leader in both points scored and games played at the world championships.
Following his run with Team USA, Johnson enjoyed an 11-year NHL career. After his playing days ended, Johnson, taking a cue from his father, began coaching. He helped start the Wisconsin women’s hockey program, and as head coach he has led the Badgers to four national championships. His squad is currently ranked second nationally and will be aiming for a fifth title this spring.
Johnson’s coaching ties also reached into the USA Hockey ranks, having led the U.S. women to an Olympic silver medal in 2010 in Vancouver. Former goaltender Jessie Vetter, who starred for Johnson on the 2008-09 national championship team and on the 2010 Olympic squad, was present at Saturday’s dedication.
"Johnson was so instrumental."— Wisconsin Badgers (@UWBadgers) February 10, 2019
"He was the leader of our team."
"He was in a way the pulse of that team."
Miracle on Ice was one of the greatest sports moments in U.S. history..... and it wouldn't have happened without Mark Johnson. #MakingHisMark pic.twitter.com/uEaxraWW9n
Throughout his career, Johnson has maintained his ties to Wisconsin.
“He’s been a terrific representative for the university, the city of Madison, state of Wisconsin and the country,” Alvarez said. “I know Mark’s late father is very proud of this moment. I’m thrilled that we’re honoring him this way and I can’t congratulate him enough.”
Johnson became the first UW hockey player to have his number retired. Before the dedication, the Badger men’s hockey team wore Johnson’s No. 10 during warmups. Current player Ty Emberson, who wore No. 10, gave his jersey to Johnson and will wear No. 21 for the rest of the season. In addition, Johnson’s women’s team honored their coach, filing onto the ice decked out in his red and white No. 10.
Four of Johnson’s children carried the No. 10 banner onto the rink as Johnson watched with his mom and wife by his side. His daughter, Megan, a hockey player at Augsburg University in Minnesota, congratulated her dad through a video message.
“Wow,” Johnson said as he let the moment sink in. “I wish my father was here, but I know he’s here in spirit.”
Johnson said his experience on the 1980 gold medal-winning team taught him the value of teamwork and unity.
“One thing I learned about our Olympic team is that if you put your egos outside the locker room, you really become a team, play as a unit, play for one another, big things can happen,” Johnson said.
Nearly 40 years later, it’s still considered one of the biggest moments in American sports.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Ceremony images from University of Wisconsin.