Boys Hockey: Johnson returns to lead Warriors
Jerr Johnson was named the new head boys' hockey coach for the Brainerd Warriors.
BRAINERD — With a touch of history in his back pocket, Jerr Johnson is hoping to make the future of Brainerd Warriors boys’ hockey bright.
The 1992 Brainerd High School graduate and former St. Michael-Albertville head coach accepted the position of head coach, which was approved by the Brainerd School Board Monday, May 8.
Johnson spent 17 years at STMA before moving to the Brainerd district last year. He was an assistant coach for both the varsity boys’ and girls’ programs last season and also coached a Peewee B team. He said the ability to see the program from top to bottom was invaluable.
“I think everything kind of happens for a reason,” Johnson said. “There were years we contemplated coming back home, but we didn’t and then I was fortunate enough to have a team go to the state tournament. When we came here, I had a kid in the youth program and just being a coach of his team I got to get a pulse on where we are at with our youth program. I was able to see the whole picture because you’re not just coaching kids when they’re in ninth, 10th, 11th or 12th grade. You need to be able to connect with them when they start hockey. That’s the job of the head coach. I think that is the biggest thing I need to work on is the recruiting and retention of players and make this game more affordable for families in the Brainerd lakes area.”
Johnson said his first priority is creating connections with his players and not just on the varsity. He wants to create a cohesive program. He wants to recruit and retain players at all levels. He said his most successful teams were ones with great leadership and great chemistry. Building that chemistry will be priority No. 1 for him.
I know (Johnson) is going to do everything in his power to help the program be successful.
“The important part of what we’re going to do, and I would always tell our kids (at STMA), Brainerd is going to be hard working and I want that to be who we are,” Johnson said. “I also want to see those types of players that do things the right way. We play hard. We play within the rules of the game and at the end of the day, win or lose, we hold our heads high and we’re respected members of our community and we’re something that young kids look up to and want to be part of that Warrior program.”
Brainerd activities director Jack Freeman believes Johnson is the man to build a high-character program.
“What stands out with Jerr, first and foremost, is the high-character human being that he is,” Freeman said. “He wears a lot of hats within our district currently and no matter who you talk to they just rave about who he is as a person and as an educator and as a coach. That’s really exciting.
“I think he had a really unique year from a hockey side of things. He was able to see all sides of our hockey program as a whole. Being our girls’ staff and helping out with our boys’ staff and also being a Peewee B coach at the youth level, too. He jumped in and was able to see all sides of our program.”
Johnson stepped away from coaching as did his wife, who was the head soccer coach at STMA for 20 years to come back to the lakes area. When the position opened, Johnson said his wife approached him about it because she knew he wasn’t done coaching.
Johnson will be the first Brainerd graduate to be the head coach of the boys’ program. He sees that as an asset.
“I think there are some advantages,” Johnson said. “I was away for a long time too and there are some advantages to that as well. I always kept an eye on Brainerd hockey. One of my best friends Jim Ernster has coached her for a long time with the boys and girls so I always kept a pulse on Brainerd and we were in the same section for the last seven years.
“You look to this as where you graduated and you have a lot of pride in the Brainerd Warriors. But I’ve been away. It’s nice to be back, but I don’t have a lot of connections here, but I know what it takes to be a Warrior and be a part of the Warrior Way and the pride of whatever colors we wear.”
“I love that piece to it because I think when you’re alumni of a program, you’re going to have that much more of a care factor,” Freeman said. “That’s just that extra added lens. He’s going to see our program through many different lenses and when you see it through the lens of alumni in addition to being a head coach there’s going to be a high care factor for wanting to see that program succeed and I know he’s going to do everything in his power to help the program be successful.”
There were other candidates who applied for the position, but Freeman believes he has his man in Johnson.
Last season, Brainerd finished 11-13-3 overall. It was 5-6 in the Central Lakes Conference which was good for fifth in the standings. The Warriors were the No. 9 seed in the Section 8-2A playoffs, but upset No. 8 St. Cloud 4-3 before falling to top-seeded Moorhead 6-2 in the quarterfinal rounds.
Johnson is the third head coach in four years for Braienrd, but he believes the talent is there.
“We have a lot of players that are returning,” Johnson said. “Expectations that we’ll have as a staff are a team that has a lot of guys back in key roles so we can have success right away. I think there is some excitement with this high school group.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.