Familiar face takes charge of Penguins

Off-season White Rock resident Mike Johnston to coach NHL team

The new coach of the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins may be a familiar face to those on the Semiahmoo Peninsula.

On Wednesday morning, the Penguins announced that Mike Johnston – a former Vancouver Canucks assistant coach and off-season White Rock resident – would take over behind the bench.

The 57-year-old, who lived here full time while working for the Canucks from 1999 until 2006, has been the head coach and general manager of the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks since 2008.

He also has experience as a coach with the Canadian national team, the Los Angeles Kings and, closer to home, has been involved with Hockey Canada’s skills-academy programs in South Surrey high schools.

“Mike comes to Pittsburgh with great experience at all levels of hockey,” said Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford in a news release.

“He has terrific knowledge of the game and proven leadership ability. His coaching style is going to be a good (fit) for the players we have here with the Penguins – it’s an up-tempo style, but it begins from deep in the defensive zone. We’re very excited to have him.”

While in Portland, Johnston revived a struggling franchise, advancing all the way to the Memorial Cup final in 2013.

Johnston’s WHL coaching experience was not without controversy, however. In 2012, he was suspended by the WHL for the entire season – and the team fined $200,000 – for a number of infractions. According to a news release from the Winterhawks at the time, the infractions for which the team was punished included: paying for flights for players’ family members to attend games; paying for certain players’ off-season training programs; and providing a cellphone for the team’s captain for a period of three seasons.

Johnston was also a favourite for the Vancouver Canucks’ head coaching position that was filled Monday when the team hired Willie Desjardins.


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