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Mark Johnson photo

Badgers women's hockey coach Mark Johnson, the all-time leading goal-scorer for the UW men's hockey program, will have his jersey retired on Feb. 9.

The University of Wisconsin has never before retired a men's hockey player's jersey.

The choice for the first one was something of a no-brainer.

Mark Johnson, the program's all-time leading goal-scorer despite playing only three seasons for the Badgers, will be honored with his jersey No. 10 in the Kohl Center rafters on Feb. 9, UW announced on Thursday.

The Madison native became a U.S. hockey hero when he helped the Americans win the Olympic gold medal in 1980. That came after three seasons with the Badgers in which he won the NCAA championship as a freshman in 1977 and scored 125 goals in 125 games.

"It makes the honor probably a little bit more special, knowing that you're the first one," Johnson said.

His name is all over the UW record book, from the most points in a season (90 in 1978-79) to the most goals in a season (48 in 1977-78) to the most goals by a freshman (36 in 1976-77). He also has the highest goal-scoring total for a sophomore and a junior, missing out on a chance at the senior record because he played that with the Olympic team before turning pro.

Badgers men's hockey coach Tony Granato grew up watching Johnson play in college when his family would make the trip to Madison from their home in the Chicago suburbs. He said people don't realize how good a player Johnson was.

"To me, in my era of what I've seen in college hockey, there's no player that has done what he did in those three years. Period," Granato said. "You can say at Wisconsin, you can say at any other school. His contribution to college hockey in a three-year period was greater than any other player that's played college hockey."

Since an 11-season NHL career ended in 1990, Johnson has made big contributions to UW through coaching. He was an assistant to Jeff Sauer with the Badgers' men's team from 1996 to 2002. When he wasn't hired as Sauer's replacement, he took over the women's team and this season became the all-time winningest Division I women's coach.

Johnson's Badgers women's teams have won four NCAA championships.

The retirement of Johnson's jersey — No. 10 will still be available for Badgers players to wear — comes after the men's basketball program has honored two of its former players in the last two years.

Albert "Ab" Nicholas and Frank Kaminsky have their jersey numbers displayed at the Kohl Center during UW men's basketball games.

When it came to be men's hockey's turn, Johnson's name was at the top of the list.

"It is difficult to come up with someone who has made the kinds of contributions to the University of Wisconsin and the world of hockey as Mark Johnson, and we are fortunate we get to recognize everything he has accomplished on and off the ice," UW athletic director Barry Alvarez said in a statement. "His years as a student-athlete and coach, as well as his international and professional playing and coaching careers makes us proud and happy that we can celebrate his legacy."

Johnson grew up in Madison as a stick boy for the Badgers teams coached by his father, Bob, who took the program from fledgling status in the late 1960s to national prominence in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Mark Johnson's jersey will be retired at the Feb. 9 game against Ohio State on the Kohl Center surface that since 2012 has been known as Bob Johnson Rink.

It'll be an emotional night for the Johnson family.

"Seeing his name on the ice and what he meant to the program, certainly the passion and the love he had for the sport, we as his kids got to see that first-hand every day and certainly rubbed off on us," Mark Johnson said.

"Hockey's been good to my family. It's provided me a lot of opportunities, a lot of wonderful memories and some great friendships along the way."

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Todd D. Milewski covers Wisconsin Badgers men's hockey and the UW Athletic Department for the Wisconsin State Journal.