This will be the first time back to St. Cloud State for Nebraska-Omaha assistant coach Steve Johnson since he left the program this summer to take the Mavericks job under head coach Dean Blais.
It’s an interesting dynamic at work with the coaching staff of the Mavericks with all three coaches having been head coaches for most of their careers. That happened when former MSU-Mankato head coach Troy Jutting joined the staff after Johnson, a long-time head coach in juniors in the United States Hockey League, did.
“It’s been great,” said Johnson, who was recruited to play for North Dakota by Blais and served as a graduate assistant under him. “Coach Blais and I have had a relationship for a long time. He’s had success throughout his career.
“My relationship with Troy has been based on his many years at Mankato and he was recruiting players I was coaching in juniors. We all chip in in all areas and have experience in all areas. We’ve got the ability to feel comfortable with both forwards and D.”
Johnson was in charge of the forwards for the Huskies. As he did when he returned to North Dakota when he was with the Huskies, Johnson does not sound overly sentimental about returning to the National Hockey and Event Center.
“It’s just going to be fun,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be no different than when I was with St. Cloud and we went back to North Dakota. It’s a competitive game and I’ll be back to a place I’m familiar with.
“You see a few people you know. I don’t put a lot of thought into it.”
After spending two seasons with the Huskies, Johnson has a pretty deep understanding of the Huskies and he’s not been surprised that they are off to a good start.
“They’re a very good team,” he said of the Huskies. “That starts from the net out beginning with (goalie) Ryan (Faragher). They have a very good core group of defensemen and then they’re strong with guys like (Ben) Hanowski and (Drew) LeBlanc and (Nic) Dowd. They have the makings of a team that’s going to win a lot of games.”
Dowd is coming off his first series without a point, but has 17 points on the season. Is Johnson surprised at that increase in scoring?
“He’s got all the physical attributes with his size and legs and a big body with good reach,” Johnson said. “He’s got the puck a lot. He’s competitive. His competitiveness is one of his biggest assets. It’s no surprise that he’s an NHL draft pick. A lot of people think he really has a chance to make it (professionally).”
Johnson is happy that LeBlanc has been able to come back from last season’s broken leg and that he is being productive again.
“The main thing when I think of Drew LeBlanc is I think of how good a person he is,” Johnson said. “He’s such an honest person. He’s a very pleasant person to be around. If you walk around the building and run into Drew, you want to be around him. I really respect how good a person he is. He’s a great hockey player as well.”
Johnson drew some comparisons between LeBlanc’s personality and Nebraska-Omaha goalie John Faulkner, who has had a bounce back season after struggling in 2011-12.
“John reminds me of Drew LeBlanc in that he’s a hard worker and a leader,” Johnson said. “They are very comparable people off the ice. It’s great to watch him have a pretty good start. The key is going to be maintaining that.”
Johnson’s ties to North Dakota are likely to be renewed next season when his son, Luke, a forward, is scheduled to join the hockey team. Luke is in his second season playing for Lincoln in the USHL. He has 3 goals and 6 assists in 13 games. Last season with Lincoln, Luke had 20 goals and 35 assists in 55 games.
Despite being quite a bit closer to where Luke is playing, Steve said that he does not get that many more chances to see him play.
“We’re obviously so busy on the weekends that I don’t really get a chance to to him play any more than I did when I was in St. Cloud,” Steve said. “I get a chance to personally see him more because he’s only 45 minutes away.
“If he’s short of money, he’ll pop over. It probably works out real good for him.”
Steve was laughing when he said that.