By Todd Vrooman
With Mike Johnston moving on to the National Hockey League with the Pittsburgh Penguins, it’s a time to look back on how staggeringly good his tenure has been in the last six years. Since taking over the head coach and general manager role in the fall of 2008, he’s overseen one of the fastest turnarounds in WHL history, the best five-year stretch of hockey in the history of the Portland Winterhawks, and been responsible for bringing four conference titles and one Ed Chynoweth Cup to the Rose City.
When evaluating Johnston’s impact in the WHL, it’s difficult to try to separate the coaching impact from his impact as a general manager. His career record behind the bench is 231-114-10-10, placing him second all-time in the Winterhawks’ record book behind Ken Hodge’s 742 victories.
Johnston’s winning percentage of .660 ranks first in the franchise of those who’ve coached 100 games or more, and ranks him among the very elite in the history of the WHL, alongside fellow WHL alumni who have gone on to become coaches in the National Hockey League like Tom Renney (.722), Ken Hitchcock (.692), Todd McLellan (.592), and Willie Desjardins (.631).
Johnston also was behind the bench for a 21-game winning streak this past season, which was the second longest winning streak in WHL history.
Mike Johnston as a builder of a roster was second-to-none at the Western Hockey League level for consistent dominance. From his first full season in 2009-10 on, the teams Johnston built went a staggering 254-88-8-10 for a 73% winning percentage.
His teams won 50 games three times, including winning the team’s third Scotty Munro trophy for the best regular season in franchise history with 57 wins in 2012-13.
During his time in the Rose City, Johnston’s Hawks raised a staggering 11 banners to the rafters in the Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum, and collected four Western Conference championship trophies, one Scholastic Team of the Year award, and one Ed Chynoweth Cup for their WHL Title in 2012-13.
His 254 wins over five seasons ties the best stretch in Winterhawks history, when the team won 254 games from 1978-83. Furthermore, in the postseason over that time the Hawks won 14 playoff series and lost only four, with an overall playoff record of 65-33. The 14 playoff series won over Mike Johnston’s tenure equals the number of series the Hawks had won the previous 23 seasons.
In addition to the incredible team success, the Winterhawks had 20 players selected in the NHL Draft during Johnston’s tenure, including six in the first round. Also, the Hawks have four players listed as expected draft selections in this weekend’s NHL draft, meaning Johnston will have likely cultivated 24 NHL draft picks in his time with the Hawks.
The six first round draft picks during his time in Portland matches the number of first rounders developed from 1992-2008. Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter became the first pair of Winterhawks teammates to both go in the top-5 overall when they went fourth and fifth respectively in 2010, both coming off of fantastic rookie seasons after being signed and recruited by Johnston the previous summer.
As he departs to take over the Penguins, any way you look at it, Mike Johnston’s tenure with the Hawks has been historic.