By Dave Leaderhouse
Two major characteristics of a Doug Johnson coached team are team defence and strong goaltending.
Those traits have propelled his Nipawin Hawks to back-to-back regular-season pennants, one league title and three coach-of-the-year honours in his first nine seasons in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. Team defence and strong goaltending were also on display on opening weekend as Johnson became that franchise’s all-time winningest coach with back-to-back 3-0 victories over the Melfort Mustangs.
Johnson now has an even 300 career regular-season victories, putting him one up on his former junior coach Bruce Thompson. Not surprisingly, Johnson shrugged off his place in the record book, but he is quite pleased with having reached a significant milestone in career victories.
“If you do the job long enough you are bound to get some kind of a record,” says Johnson. “I’ve been fortunate to have had great staff and great players that have helped along the way.”
“Three hundred wins – you know that is kind of nice,” adds Johnson. “To have 300 wins in one spot – not many people get to do that. Nipawin is home for us so it is nice to do something like that for the community.”
Over the years the Hawks have produced some top-notch goaltenders with Kristian Stead, Davis Jones and Joe O’Brien all having secured post-secondary opportunities. Declan Hobbs and Patrick Pugliese were last year’s tandem, but with both not returning this year Johnson admits goaltending was a concern when the season opened.
“The worst feeling as a coach is you are not able to work on everything (during training camp),” says Johnson. “With six practises under your belt you hope for the best.”
“I have to admit my biggest concern was goaltending, but Ethan (Slobodzian) did a fabulous job,” understated Johnson.
Slobodzian, who has bounced around the prairies the last couple of years having played in Grand Prairie in the Alberta Junior Hockey League and Dauphin in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, stopped all 51 shots he faced on the weekend to help Nipawin sweep their rivals from Melfort.
The Hawks will look to continue their stingy start this weekend when they play the La Ronge Ice Wolves in a home-and-home set before heading to Warman for the annual Showcase event that runs from Sept. 22-25.