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Fargo hockey coaching brothers have plenty in common

FARGO It's not hard to tell that Steve and Chad Johnson are brothers. They look alike. They sound alike. The Fargo Force coaches also have the knack for having success follow them to the rink. With Chad heading to take the head-coaching gig with ...

Chad Johnson (right)
Brothers Steve Johnson, left, and Chad Johnson (David Samson / The Forum)

FARGO

It's not hard to tell that Steve and Chad Johnson are brothers.

They look alike. They sound alike. The Fargo Force coaches also have the knack for having success follow them to the rink.

With Chad heading to take the head-coaching gig with the Lincoln Stars next season, this could be the last chance for the brothers to capture a championship together on the same bench.

"It's a pretty neat thing for both of us, and I think both of us realize how lucky we are to have this chance," said Steve, who is in his first year as head coach of the Force. "This is the premiere junior hockey league in the country.

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"To be able to coach in it together? Yeah, we're fortunate."

Fargo opens the best-of-5 West Division finals tonight in Omaha, with the winner moving on to the Clark Cup Finals.

This is Steve's first year as head coach of the Force, but he's one of the winningest coaches in USHL history. He won 406 games in 11 years with the Lincoln Stars, and has 470 victories in the USHL for his career.

In Steve's first three years in Lincoln, Chad was an assistant.

All the two did was help the Stars set a record for wins by an expansion team and become the only USHL team to win the Clark Cup in its inaugural season.

"That's how we want to finish this thing off," Chad said. "We hope to do something in our last year coaching together that we did in our first, and that was win a championship."

Steve is the older brother by four years, meaning that the two of them never played on any competitive teams together.

That's why getting the opportunity to coach together means so much to the brothers.

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"We're both competitive, and we both enjoy being able to do something like this together," Steve said. "I wasn't able to really watch him play because by then I was gone so much, so this really means a lot."

One thing both coaches are is accessible to their players.

Chad has always been a guy that relates well with players, and one of the first things Steve did when taking over the Force was move his office downstairs in the Urban Plains Center - to where it is literally connected to the locker room.

"Both of them are very easy to talk to, and that was different than last year with coach (Dean) Blais, because everybody knows how intimidating he is," said Fargo forward Nate Condon with a laugh. "They're all similar in their emphasis on conditioning, but that approachability is a difference."

When it comes down to the nuts and bolts of practice or demeanor during a game, Steve said he's only familiar with his brother as an assistant. That changes next year.

Chad will take over as Lincoln's head coach as soon as Fargo's season wraps up.

Chad's job in Lincoln will be his first head-coaching gig in the USHL, but he had successful runs in the NAHL with both the Bismarck Bobcats and the Fargo-Moorhead Jets.

Chad was also an assistant under Dean Blais in the Force's inaugural season, where Fargo also advanced to the Clark Cup finals, but fell short in four games.

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"The two coaches I've been an assistant under the last two years have really helped me," Chad said. "I mean, Dean Blais and Steve Johnson have won everywhere they've been."

Nobody can argue with the results of either coach through the first couple years of the team's existence.

Steve Johnson might be a different coach from Blais, but it's hard for some players to tell apart the brothers.

"At the beginning of the year, some of the first-year guys couldn't differentiate between the two," Condon said. "They seriously couldn't tell who was who.

"Their similar in that they preach conditioning, but they've really gotten me to look at the game in a different way."

Chad is looking forward to being a head coach in this league, but not exactly right now. He's more concerned with helping this year's Force team go as far as possible before worrying about next year's Stars squad.

As far as winning 400 games in Lincoln like his brother did?

"I'm not thinking about that," Chad laughed. "You think I'm going to coach until I'm 80?"

If Chad decides to coach that long, don't be surprised if he has an 84-year-old assistant with the same last name.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

Related Topics: HOCKEYNAHLUSHL
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