Strength in numbers
Jaguars come together under new coach Mark Johnson
Tuesday, November 30, 2021
First-year Bloomington Jefferson head coach Mark Johnson has been around the rinks coaching boys and girls hockey for a long time. From the early days of sanctioned girls high school hockey in Richfield in the mid-90s, to more recent stints at Lakeville South, St. Paul United and Hopkins/Park.
But nothing could really prepare him for the situation he inherited when he was hired last spring to be the girls head coach at Jefferson. On April 18, 2021, the Jaguars lost their head coach Mike Ryan after he was assaulted outside a St. Paul restaurant and died the next day.
“No one has experience with this,” said Johnson. “I just felt like this was the one for me.”
Jefferson head coach Mark Johnson. Cyndi Nightengale Photography
Johnson took the reins of the Jefferson program, determined to carry on Ryan’s legacy and help build up a growing girls program. “We have three teams at each level,” he said. “U12s, U10s and U6 Mites.” It helps that Bloomington now combines players from Jefferson and Kennedy to fill out their teams. A healthy youth feeder system creates optimism for the future of the high school program.
But for the Jaguars varsity team, crushed by a devastating loss and getting to know a new coach, this year’s outlook was a bit uncertain. Johnson took an observational approach as he began his new coaching duties. “You feel it out and see where the kids are at,” he said. The coach was pleased with what he found. “They were all real excited to get going. We all knew (coach Ryan’s death) was there, but we just decided to keep going; that’s what Mike would’ve done,” said Johnson.
Did the new coach see a 5-0-0 start coming? “No,” he said bluntly. “But I knew how hard these kids worked.”
Jaguars Forward Abbie Longhenry Cyndi Nightengale Photography
The Jaguars have solid experience, with eight seniors on the team. “They are leaders. We have great seniors taking charge,” said Johnson.
The team has also had to overcome the loss of senior goaltender Chasity Anderson, who tore her ACL during pre-season workouts. Anderson was gaining interest from D1 programs and was expected to be a big part of this year’s team. Jefferson has now turned to eighth grade goalie Sarah Rash. “She has stepped up and done a wonderful job,” said Johnson.
Rash has posted a 2.40 GAA and a .881 SV% through five games, with one shutout. “The kids are backing her,” he said.
Jefferson leading scorer Grace Schuck Cyndi Nightengale Photography
On the blue line, the Jaguars have an experienced group. Offensively, Johnson likes the scoring he is getting from his second and third lines, as well as the production from his top scorers. Grace Schuck and Abbie Longhenry have teamed up for 13 goals and 27 points in the first five games.
Johnson knows they’ll face stiffer competition, but he thinks his girls will be up for it. “We’ll compete for sure,” he said. “We’ve got girls working really hard and we still have a lot of work to do.”
Entering the season with so much uncertainty, coach Johnson is feeling good about how the season is unfolding. “The kids all get along great. We’re having fun,” he said. “They’re playing for each other and for coach Mike. They’re dedicating the season to him.”
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