“Augsburg hockey has a strong foundation based on past success and the program has high expectations,” stated Coach Chris Brown. “I believe that we are now adding to that foundation of success and meeting the high expectations in large part due to Chris' leadership and his positive attitude. He will go down as one of the special talents to have represented the on-ice tradition and pride of Augsburg hockey.”
Chris’ grandfather won three national titles while coaching Wisconsin and an NHL title coaching Pittsburgh. Chris’ father, Mark, played on the 1980 U.S. Olympic team and for his father at Wisconsin; he was on one of the Badger national championship teams Bob coached. Mark has coached the Badger women’s team since 2002 and will coach the U.S. women’s team in the upcoming Olympics in Vancouver.
The Johnson family connection with hockey does not stop there. “My older brother, Doug, played hockey in high school and in Juniors,” Chris said. “He now coaches youth hockey. My younger brother, Patrick, plays for Wisconsin. My sister Michayla is a sophomore in high school and plays on the hockey team. Megan is a seventh grader and plays U-14 hockey.”
Chris was born in New Jersey, where the family lived while his dad played professionally for the Devils. “We lived in Milan, Italy when I was five and in Austria for a year after that when Dad played over there,” said Chris. “We moved to the Madison area when I was seven and have been there ever since.”
They settled in Verona, a suburb of 7,000 southwest of Madison. Chris attended Madison Memorial High, where he golfed and played hockey. “I was on the JV golf team for two years and the varsity my junior and senior years,” he said. “Golf was more for fun and personal satisfaction.”
With his dad playing pro hockey the first six years of Chris’ life, it is only natural that he learned to skate at a young age. By the time he was five, Chris was playing competitive youth hockey in Italy. He later played in Austria while his family lived there. Once they settled in Verona, Chris played in the youth program there: Mites, Squirts, Pee Wees and Bantams. “We won the state championship in Mites one year with my dad coaching us,” he recalled.
Chris joined the varsity at Madison Memorial as a freshman. “My brother Doug and I were teammates my first two years of high school and my younger brother Patrick was a teammate of mine in my senior year,” Chris said.
He saw limited playing time his first two seasons with the Spartans, but skated on the first line his junior and senior years. Memorial reached the state tourney in Chris’ sophomore, junior and senior years, but lost in the quarterfinals each year. “My dad was on a state championship, as was Doug, but Patrick and I did not win one,” Chris noted.
Chris was named to the All-Conference team his junior and senior years and earned All-State honors as a senior. He was a finalist for Wisconsin’s Mr. Hockey award his senior year.
The Johnson family runs a summer hockey camp. Chris played hockey at the camp until he was 16. After that, he helped work at the camp.
Chris opted to play Juniors hockey after high school, hoping to build on his high school success and secure a Division I scholarship. The father of one of his high school teammates was a scout for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs of the North American Hockey League. “He recruited me, and got me to go up there and try out for the team,” Chris said. “I made the team and played for the Ice Dogs for two years. It was a good experience for me, and I enjoyed the relationships I had with teammates and coaches there.”
The Ice Dogs made the playoffs both seasons Chris skated with them. They lost in the first round his first year and were knocked out of the playoffs in the second round the next year.
Chris failed to catch the attention of Division I programs but several Division III programs recruited him, most notably Augsburg and St. Norbert’s. “Coach Brown had just taken the job at Augsburg and came out to Billings to watch us play,” Chris said. “I knew him some from Alaska. We talked and there was a good personal connection. I thought it was kind of cool that my grandpa had played at Augsburg.”
Augsburg slumped in Chris’ sophomore year, falling to 4-12-0 and eighth place in MIAC play. They were 6-17-2 overall. He led the team in total points (26), and ranked 16th among MIAC players in overall points. In league games only, Chris had three goals and 12 assists (15 points), and was among the league leaders in points and assists. He was named All-MIAC Honorable Mention.
Chris had a breakout season as a junior. He led the MIAC in scoring with 33 points. His 22 assists also led the conference while he tied for second in goals with 11. He helped the Auggies to a strong finish as they stormed to a 6-1-1 run over their final eight games to finish fifth in the league and make the MIAC Playoff field. They lost to Hamline 5-4 in the opening round to close the year 9-16-1. Chris finished the year with 14 goals and 28 assists (42 points). He had a goal or assist in 21 of the Auggies’ 26 games. He had 11 multiple-point games, including a hat trick against Bethel, a five assist game (one short of single-game school record) against St. Olaf, a four assist game against Saint Mary’s and a two goal, two assist game against Babson. He finished the year 13th in the nation in points per game and 10th in assists per game.
He was named to the All-MIAC First Team. Chris was named to the American Hockey Coaches Association/RBK Hockey Division III Men’s All-American West Region Second Team and was an All-USCHO West Honorable Mention.
This season, the Auggies are in the thick of the chase for the MIAC Playoffs. They currently sport a 3-4-1 conference record and are 10-6-1 overall. Chris, the team’s captain for the second year, is a key reason behind their success. He has found the net six times and notched eight assists for a total of 14 points thus far and has had a point in half of the Auggies’ games. He has become the most recent member of the Augsburg 100-point club, and now has 102 points n his career.
“His on-ice productivity and accolades speak for themselves and he has earned everything with talent and effort,” stated Coach Brown. “He has contributed in many ways during each of his four years. Our program has been in the playoffs two of his previous three seasons and hopefully this year we can make it three of his four years. Chris has been instrumental in those accomplishments.”
Off the ice, Chris has been active in Hockey Ministry International, which is a weekly Bible study group in its second year on the Augsburg campus. He is also part of To the Finish Line, a Bible study group of Augsburg student-athletes.
He has been involved in the Herb Brooks Foundation’s kids program that promotes youth hockey in Minneapolis. “We get together at a local park,” he said. “We deal with kids up to eighth grade. We help them skate, and teach them the basics of hockey.”
Chris is a Finance major with a minor in Accounting, and sports a 3.48 GPA. He will graduate in May. Chris is looking into a variety of career options. “I’d love to be involved in pro sports, preferably hockey, in some capacity,” he said. “Whether that’s in sales, marketing, administration or whatever. I am also looking at options in the world of finance, possibly something in a financial advisor or analyst role.”
Like his father, grandfather and brother, Chris would like to be involved in coaching hockey.
This year has been additionally special for Chris and his dad, as Mark is based in the Twin Cities with his U.S. Olympic team. As a result, father and son have been able to spend considerably more time together than if Mark was coaching at Wisconsin. Mark makes many of Chris’ games, and Chris has taken in the Olympic team's games as his schedule allows. “This has given us the opportunity to connect, to spend quality time with each other,” Mark told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “I’m getting a chance to spend time with him I wouldn’t have if I were still in Madison. With him being a senior, we cherish all these moments.”
Chris concurs. “My family has always been a big part of my life,” he said. “It has been very special having my parents here in the Twin Cities, especially for my senior year.”
Being at Augsburg has been “Exactly what I needed it to be,” Chris reflected. “It became home for me. I’ve received a great education here and I cherish the relationships I’ve made here with teammates, coaches, teachers and friends. I’ve grown up a lot while I’ve been here.”
He added with a smile: “I’ve learned how to pay bills, too.”
For Coach Brown, having a player of Chris’ talent and ability has been a blessing, but having a man of Chris’ character in the program has been an even greater reward. “He is an extraordinary young man and I consider myself fortunate to have been a part of his life and his hockey career,” Brown said. “Chris is the type of individual who has impacted me as a coach and a person so that is special. He will go down as one of the special talents to have represented the on-ice tradition and pride of Augsburg hockey. More importantly, he will be remembered for years to come because of the positive impact he has had off the ice while on our campus.”
[Photos are courtesy of the Augsburg College Sports Information office. The action photo was taken by Don Stoner.]
<em>The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) is widely respected as one of the premier conferences in nearly every sport competed in Division III. Year after year, the MIAC produces teams and individual student-athletes who excel in their given sport. At the same time, the MIAC schools maintain a reputation of commitment to academic excellence. This article is one in a series of spotlights on some of the young men and women who represent the league’s commitment to excellence, both in the classroom and athletics during the 2008-09 academic year.
This feature will be included in the "Profiles of Excellence 2009-2010" book which will be available for order at <a href="http://www.rdmpublishing.com/products/book08.html">RDM Publishing</a>. It will feature profiles of student-athletes from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, written by CSN’s "Mapping the MIAC" columnist Rich Mies.</em>