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Born to skate

09/18/2011, 9:49am CDT
By Loren Nelson, Editor

Craig Johnson's passion for pond hockey led to stardom at Hill-Murray, Top 100 status

Craig Johnson

Born: March 18, 1972

H.S. Class: 1990

Position: Forward

Rank
66

Status: Retired

Top 100 Scoring System

HOMETOWN HIGH SCHOOL COLLEGE
St. Paul Hill-Murray Minnesota

Notable stats

State Tourney Appearances State Titles Mr. Hockey NHL Draft Olympics
1988 None 1990 finalist 33rd overall (St. Louis, 1990) 1994

128

  • High School | Max 185

    124 points

  • State Titles | Max 10

    0 points

  • Post H.S. Career | Max 5

    4 points

Craig Johnson's speedskating background helped him make instant impact as Hill-Murray sophomore


Craig Johnson scored 137 points in three seasons at Hill-Murray. He was a sophomore in 1988 when the Pioneers reached the state championship game. Star Tribune file photo

Happiness for toddler-aged Craig Johnson was a folding chair and frozen lake.

Oh yeah, and a pair of skates.

Johnson might as well have been born wearing skates. He was the ripe old age of 3 when he stepped out of his footie pajamas and was strapped into his first pair of blades.

Johnson’s father, Dwight, would take him the five blocks from their family home in St. Paul to Lake Como. They would spend the day there. Many, many days there.

The pint-sized Johnson learned to skate as he pushed that chair for hours upon hours, stopping only for the occasional rest break.


Craig Johnson, left, played 10 seasons in the NHL, including parts of eight seasons with the Los Angeles Kings. Star Tribune file photo

“He pushed that chair all over,” Dwight Johnson said. “He would get tired, and I would put him in the chair. He always wanted to skate. All the other kids would want to go home after a while, but he never wanted to leave.”

Dwight Johnson insisted his son learn to skate before he played hockey. Conveniently, the Midway Skating Club made its home on Lake Como. The club’s impeccably groomed speedskating oval was an ideal place for a skating-obsessed kid to hone his skills.

By the time Johnson was in the third grade, his father made him choose between speedskating and hockey. “You can’t do both,” Dwight Johnson told his son.

Johnson chose hockey, but there remained a speedskating element to his game.

“He had great wheels,” said Pat Schafhauser, who graduated from Hill-Murray High School in 1989, a year ahead of Johnson. “He loved hockey. He was one of those kids you could just tell there was something different about them. There was something that makes them special.”

St. Paul’s Como Park neighborhood wasn’t routinely producing top-flight hockey players in the late 1980s, so Johnson was a bit of an unknown commodity when he showed up for Hill-Murray tryouts as a sophomore.

“He came out to the first practice and started skating around,” Schafhauser said. “Obviously the speed was easy to see. People took notice pretty quick. They were like, ‘I’m not sure who he is, but I’d sure like to get to know him.’ ”

Johnson scored 14 goals and added 20 assists in 28 games as a sophomore. His considerable presence helped give Hill-Murray the depth to push all the way to the 1988 state championship game. The Pioneers beat Rochester John Marshall 4-3 in the quarterfinals and downed Bloomington Jefferson 6-3 in the semifinals.

“My goal wasn’t to become an NHL player or become a Minnesota Gopher,” Johnson said. “I wanted to play in the state tournament. I grew up watching all those great players come before me. For me it was an honor.”

Edina beat Hill-Murray 5-3 in the title game. Johnson would score 52 and 51 points as a junior and senior, respectively, but he never again reached the tournament.


As a member of the U.S. national team, Craig Johnson (center) played in the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. Star Tribune file photo

Hill-Murray lost to White Bear Lake in two overtimes in the 1989 Section 3 semifinals. The Pioneers were upended by Park (Cottage Grove) in three overtimes the following year, again seeing their season end in the section semifinals.

Despite the disappointments, Johnson’s passion for hockey never waned.

“He came up with some things on the ice that coaches don’t teach,” Schafhauser said. “You could see what made him an outstanding player; he was creative and he loved to play.

“He wasn’t afraid to try some of those things he practiced on the ice in games. He was just fun to have him out there, really.”

One of five Mr. Hockey finalists in 1990, Johnson headed to the University of Minnesota after high school. He scored 42 goals in three seasons, leaving early to join the U.S. national team and play in the 1994 Olympics.

Johnson played 10 seasons in the NHL, appearing in 557 games. He retired from pro hockey in 2007 and lives in Irvine, Calif. He remains heavily involved in hockey, serving as the director of coaches for the Anaheim Junior Ducks.

Johnson said he and former NHL all-star defenseman Scott Niedermayer have joined forces to coach a Squirt-level team that includes one of Johnson’s two sons (they also have a daughter).


Craig Johnson lives in Irvine, Calif., and is the director of coaches for the Anaheim Junior Ducks.

That Squirt team was in Detroit for a tournament when Johnson gave his players a glimpse into his Minnesota childhood.

“We got eliminated in the semifinals of the tournament,” Johnson said. “The whole team went down to this local lake. They had it plowed off, and we started scrimmaging at 9 in the morning. We finally left at about 4 in the afternoon to catch our 7 o’clock flight.

“My son still talks about that tournament. He absolutely loved playing out on the lake. He wants to go back to Minnesota and play outdoors there.”

Father and son, sharing the same passion. What’s the expression? The puck doesn’t fall far from the hockey bag.

Of all Johnson’s memories, playing the Russians in the Olympics, playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs, you name it, those days on Lake Como were the best.

“I remember watching the fish through the ice,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t believe they didn’t freeze.

“That’s the thing I remember the most, playing outside.”

-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

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Moorhead's Jack Stetz (21) throws his arms up as he and his teammates celebrated the win. ] ANTHONY SOUFFLE • anthony.souffle@startribune.com

Minnesota's Top 100 Players

Rank Name School Grad. Pos. Born Status St. Titles Mr. Hockey College Olym. NHL
1 John Mayasich Eveleth 1951 F 5/22/33 Retired 1948, 49, 50, 51 NA Minnesota (1951-55) 1956, 1960 -
2 Neal Broten Roseau 1978 F 11/29/59 Retired - NA Minnesota (1978-81) 1980 1,099 gms; four teams; 80-97
3 Phil Housley South St. Paul 1982 D 3/9/64 Retired - NA - 2002 1,495 gms; eight teams; 82-03
4 Tim Sheehy International Falls 1966 F 9/3/48 Retired 1964, 65, 66 NA Boston College (1967-70) 1972 27 gms; DET, HAR; 77-80
5 Henry Boucha Warroad 1969 D 6/1/51 Retired - NA - 1972 247 gms; four teams; 71-77
6 Mike Antonovich Greenway 1969 F 10/18/51 Retired 1967, 68 NA Minnesota (1969-72) - 87 gms; three teams; 75-84
7 Willard Ikola Eveleth 1950 G 7/28/32 Retired 1948, 49, 50 NA Michigan (1951-54) 1956 -
8 Mike Crowley Bloomington Jefferson 1994 D 7/4/75 Retired 1992, 93, 94 1994 Minnesota (1994-97) - 67 gms; ANA; 97-01
9 Dave Spehar Duluth East 1996 F 11/7/77 Retired 1995 1996 Minnesota (1996-00) - -
10 John Matchefts Eveleth 1949 F 6/18/31 Retired 1948, 49 NA Michigan (1950-53) 1956 -
11 Kyle Rau Eden Prairie 2011 F 10/24/92 Active 2009, 11 2011 Minnesota (2011- present) - -
12 Aaron Broten Roseau 1979 F 11/14/60 Retired - NA Minnesota (1979-81) - 748 gms; six teams; 80-92
13 Craig Norwich Edina East 1974 D 12/15/55 Retired 1974 NA Wisconsin (1974-77) - 104 gms; three teams; 79-81
14 John Pohl Red Wing 1998 F 6/29/79 Retired 1997 (Class 1A) 1998 Minnesota (1998-02) - 115 gms; StL, TOR; 03-08
15 Gary Sargent Bemidji 1972 D 2/8/54 Retired - NA Bemidji State (1972-73) - 402 gms; LAK, MIN; 75-83
16 Bob Krieger Edina 1970 F 10/5/52 Retired 1969 NA Denver (1970-74) - -
17 George Pelawa Bemidji 1986 F 2/14/68 Deceased - 1986 - - -
18 Bill Nyrop Edina 1970 D 7/23/52 Deceased 1969 NA Notre Dame (1970-74) - 207 gms; MON, MIN; 75-82
19 Tom Chorske Minneapolis Southwest 1985 F 9/18/66 Retired - 1985 Minnesota (1985-89) - 596 gms; seven teams; 89-00
20 Steve "Pokey" Trachsel Duluth Cathedral 1969 D 4/16/51 Retired 1966, 67, 68, 69 (Catholic) NA Minnesota-Duluth (1969-73) - -
21 Scott Bloom Burnsville 1986 F 2/6/68 Retired 1985, 86 1986 finalist Minnesota (1986-90) - -
22 Phil Hoene Duluth Cathedral 1967 F 3/15/49 Retired 1965, 66, 67 (Catholic) NA Minnesota-Duluth (1968-71) - 37 gms; LAK; 72-75
23 Corey Millen Cloquet 1982 F 4/29/64 Retired - NA Minnesota (1982-87) 1984, 1988 335 gms; five teams; 89-97
24 Reed Larson Minneapolis Roosevelt 1974 D 7/30/56 Retired - NA Minnesota (1974-77) - 904 gms; six teams; 76-90
25 Bob Young Hill 1971 D 3/1/53 Retired 1970 (Indep.) NA Denver (1971-75) - -
26 Brad Shelstad Minneapolis Southwest 1970 G 9/14/52 Retired 1970 NA Minnesota (1970-74) - -
27 Mike Ramsey Minneapolis Roosevelt 1978 D 12/3/60 Retired - NA Minnesota (1978-79) 1980 1,070 gms; three teams; 80-97
28 Matt Cullen Moorhead 1995 F 11/2/76 Active - 1995 finalist St. Cloud State (1995-97) - 966 gms; five teams; 98- present
29 Bill Baker Grand Rapids 1975 D 11/29/56 Retired 1975 NA Minnesota (1975-79) 1980 143 gms; four teams; 80-83
30 Paul Martin Elk River 2000 D 3/5/81 Active - 2000 Minnesota (2000-03) 2006 487 gms; NJ, PIT; 03- present
31 Wally Grant Eveleth 1945 F 12/8/27 Retired 1945 NA Michigan (1945-46, 47-50) - -
32 Brian Bonin White Bear Lake 1992 F 11/28/73 Retired - 1992 Minnesota (1992-96) - 12 gms; PIT, MIN; 98-00
33 Larry Olimb Warroad 1988 D 8/11/69 Retired - 1988 Minnesota (1988-92) - -
34 Dave Langevin Hill-Murray 1972 D 5/15/54 Retired 1970, 72 (Indep.) NA Minnesota-Duluth (1972-76) - 513 gms; three teams; 79-87
35 Joe Bianchi Bloomington Jefferson 1994 F 8/17/75 Retired 1992, 93, 94 1994 finalist Wisconsin (1994-98) - -
36 Peter Fichuk International Falls 1965 F 4/8/47 Retired 1964, 65 NA Minnesota (1966-69) - -
37 Jon Casey Grand Rapids 1980 G 8/29/62 Retired 1980 NA North Dakota (1980-84) 425 gms; three teams; 83-87
38 Doug Woog South St. Paul 1962 F 1/26/44 Retired - NA Minnesota (1963-66) - -
39 Darby Hendrickson Richfield 1991 F 8/28/72 Retired - 1991 Minnesota (1991-93) 1994 518 gms; five teams; 94-04
40 Paul Ranheim Edina 1984 F 1/25/66 Retired 1984 NA Wisconsin (1984-88) - 1,013 gms; five teams; 88-03
41 Steve Christoff Richfield 1976 F 1/23/58 Retired - NA Minnesota (1976-79) 1980 248 gms; three teams; 79-84
42 T.J. Oshie Warroad 2005 F 12/23/86 Active 2003, 2005 (Class 1A) 2005 finalist North Dakota (2005-08) - 184 gms; StL; 08- present
43 Scott Lecy Rochester John Marshall 1977 F 4/8/59 Retired 1977 NA Wisconsin (1977-81) - -
44 Scott Bjugstad Irondale 1979 F 6/2/61 Retired - NA Minnesota (1979-83) 1984 317 gms; three teams; 83-92
45 Mike "Lefty" Curran International Falls 1962 G 4/14/1944 Retired 1962 NA North Dakota (1965-68) 1972 -
46 Joe Micheletti Hibbing 1973 F 10/24/54 Retired 1973 NA Minnesota (1973-77) - 158 gms; StL, COL; 79-82
47 Rob McClanahan Mounds View 1976 F 1/9/58 Retired - NA Minnesota (1976-79) 1980 224 gms; three teams; 80-84
48 Nick Leddy Eden Prairie 2009 D 3/20/91 Active 2009 2009 Minnesota (2009-10) - 46 gms; CHI; 10- present
49 Tom Pederson Bloomington Jefferson 1988 D 1/14/70 Retired - 1988 finalist Minnesota (1988-91) - 240 gms; SJ, TOR; 92-97
50 Dave Christian Warroad 1977 F 5/12/59 Retired - NA North Dakota (1977-79) 1980 1,009 gms; five teams; 80-94
51 Jay North Bloomington Jefferson 1980 F 6/26/62 Retired - NA Harvard (1980-84) - -
52 Paul Johnson Breck 1953 F 5/18/36 Retired - NA - 1960, 1964 -
53 Pete Waselovich International Falls 1973 G 11/15/54 Retired 1972 NA North Dakota (1973-77) - -
54 Tom Kurvers Bloomington Jefferson 1980 D 9/14/62 Retired - NA UM-Duluth (1980-84) - 659 gms; seven teams; 84-95
55 Mark Osiecki Burnsville 1986 D 7/23/68 Retired 1985, 86 - Wisconsin (1997-90) - 93 gms; four teams; 91-93
56 Mark Pavelich Eveleth 1976 F 2/28/58 Retired - NA UM-Duluth (1976-79) 1980 355 gms; three teams; 81-92
57 Mark Parrish Bloomington Jefferson 1995 F 2/2/77 Active 1994 1995 finalist St. Cloud State (1995-97) 2006 722 gms; seven teams; 98- present
58 Bryan "Butsy" Erickson Roseau 1978 F 3/7/60 Retired - NA Minnesota (1979-83) - 351 gms; four teams; 83-94
59 Roger Christian Warroad 1956 F 12/1/35 Deceased - NA - 1960, 1964 -
60 Bill Christian Warroad 1956 F 1/28/38 Retired - NA - 1960, 1964 -
61 Trent Klatt Osseo 1989 F 1/30/72 Retired - 1989 Minnesota (1989-92) - 782 gms; five teams; 91-04
62 Erik Rasmussen St. Louis Park 1995 F/D 3/28/77 Retired - 1995 Minnesota (1995-97) - 545 gms; three teams; 97-07
63 Robb Stauber Duluth Denfeld 1986 G 11/25/67 Retired - NA Minnesota (1986-89) - 62 gms; LAK, BUF; 89-95
64 Joe Dziedzic Minneapolis Edison 1990 F 12/18/71 Retired - 1990 Minnesota (1990-94) - 130 gms; PIT, PHX; 95-99
65 Ryan McDonagh Cretin- Derham Hall 2007 D 6/13/89 Active 2006 2007 Wisconsin (2007-10) - 40 gms; NYR; 10- present
66 Craig Johnson Hill-Murray 1990 F 3/18/72 Retired - 1990 finalist Minnesota (1990-93) 1994 557 gms; five teams; 94-04
67 Matt Hendricks Blaine 2000 F 6/17/81 Active 2000 2000 finalist St. Cloud State (2000-04) - 137 gms; COL, WSH; 08- present
68 Wally Chapman Edina 1982 F 7/6/64 Retired 1982 NA Minnesota (1982-86) - -
69 Bob Paradise Cretin 1962 D 4/22/44 Retired - NA Saint Mary's (1962-66) 1968 368 gms; four teams; 71-79
70 Ben Hanowski Little Falls 2009 F 10/18/90 Active - 2009 finalist St. Cloud State (2009- present) - -
71 Damian Rhodes Richfield 1987 G 5/28/69 Retired - NA Michigan Tech (1987-90) - 309 gms; three teams; 90-02
72 Eric Strobel Rochester Mayo 1976 F 6/5/58 Retired - NA Minnesota (1976-79) 1980 -
73 Dick Dougherty International Falls 1950 F 8/5/32 Retired - NA Minnesota (1951-54) 1956 -
74 Gino Guyer Greenway 2002 F 10/14/83 Active - 2002 Minnesota (2002-06) - -
75 Jim Amidon International Falls 1963 F 2/18/45 Retired 1962 NA Colorado College (1964-67) - -
76 Karl Goehring Apple Valley 1996 G 8/23/78 Retired 1996 NA North Dakota (1997-01) - -
77 Rube Bjorkman Roseau 1947 F 2/27/29 Retired 1946 NA Minnesota (1948-51) 1948, 1952 -
78 Tony Bianchi Bloomington Jefferson 1989 F 12/15/70 Retired 1989 - Minnesota (1991-94) - -
79 Oscar Mahle International Falls 1957 F 8/22/39 Deceased 1957 NA Minnesota (1959-61) - -
80 Mike Randolph Duluth Cathedral 1970 F 11/5/51 Retired 1967, 68, 69 (Catholic) NA - - -
81 Aaron Ness Roseau 2008 D 5/18/90 Active 2007 2008 Minnesota (2008-11) - -
82 Doug Palazzari Eveleth 1970 F 11/3/52 Retired - NA Colorado College (1970-74) - 108 gms; StL; 74-79
83 Nick Checco Bloomington Jefferson 1993 F 11/18/74 Retired 1992, 93 1993 Minnesota (1993-97) - -
84 John Rothstein Grand Rapids 1975 F 10/28/56 Retired 1975 NA UM-Duluth (1975-79) - -
85 Gary Wood International Falls 1965 D 9/28/46 Deceased 1964, 65 NA - - -
86 Al Hangsleben Warroad 1971 D 2/22/53 Retired - NA North Dakota (1971-74) - 185 gms; three teams; 79-82
87 Doug Peltier St. Paul Johnson 1968 F 6/29/50 Retired - NA Minnesota (1969-72) - -
88 Mike Lauen Edina East 1979 F 2/6/61 Retired 1978, 79 NA Michigan Tech (1979-83) - 4 gms; WIN; 83-84
89 Max Oshie Warroad 1948 F 6/10/28 Deceased - NA - - -
90 Tom Gorowsky Centennial 2004 F 4/8/86 Retired 2004 2004 Wisconsin (2005-09) - -
91 Jack McCartan St. Paul Marshall 1953 G 8/5/35 Retired - NA Minnesota (1955-58) 1960 12 gms; NYR; 59-61
92 Doug Zmolek Roch. John Marshall 1989 D 11/3/70 Retired - 1989 finalist Minnesota (1989-92) - 467 gms; four teams; 92-00
93 Pete LoPresti Eveleth 1972 G 5/23/54 Retired - NA Denver (1972-74) - 175 gms; MIN, EDM; 74-81
94 Terry Abram South St. Paul 1965 D 2/14/47 Retired - NA North Dakota (1966-69) - -
95 Bill "Buzz" Schneider Babbitt 1972 F/D 9/14/54 Retired - NA Minnesota (1972-75) 1976, 1980 -
96 David Backes Spring Lake Park 2002 F 5/1/84 Active - 2002 finalist Minnesota State (2003-06) 2010 364 gms; StL; 06-11
97 Don Ross Roseau 1960 F 10/11/42 Retired 1958, 59 NA North Dakota (1961-65) 1964, 1968 -
98 Mike Polich Hibbing 1971 F 12/19/52 Retired - NA Minnesota (1971-75) - 226 gms; MON, MIN; 76-81
99 Chris Locker Duluth East 1996 F 10/14/77 Retired 1995 - UW-River Falls (1999-2000) - -
100 Herb Brooks St. Paul Johnson 1955 F 8/5/37 Deceased 1955 NA Minnesota (1955-59) 1964, 1968 -

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