SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – It is time to start playing for real in the USHL. Exhibitions and pre-season games are done. Player cuts have been made, rosters are now finalized.
But, a coaching change in Lincoln added an extra bit of interest in the USHL, set to start its 12th campaign as the nation’s only Tier 1 junior hockey league this Friday night.
The big story of the week came Wednesday when it was announced that Stars coach Chad Johnson had resigned.
Johnson stepped down for personal and medical reasons, according to team president JIm Pflug in a release posted on the team web site.
The medical issues have not been specifically identified and Johnson has been commuting back and forth between Lincoln and Fargo, where his family lives, including a young son.
Johnson said, “It was truly an honor for me to do something I love in front of the best fans in the league, and I really appreciate the support they’ve shown me.”
In three seasons as head coach, Johnson fashioned a record of 116-71-12, including a Western Conference regular season championship for the team in 2011-12.
Lincoln had just signed a two-year extension of Johnson’s contract at the end of last season. He’s the brother of Steve Johnson, who was the team’s first head coach and led the Stars to a pair of Clark Cup titles in 11 campaigns on the bench.
The team did not go far in finding a successor to Johnson, as associate head coach Jimmy McGroarty was returned to top spot on the bench.
A Toronto, Ontario native, McGroarty takes over for the man who replaced him when McGroarty was relieved of his duties. His dismissal came after the Stars missed the playoffs in the 2009-10 campaign.
McGroarty stayed with the team as associate head coach, despite being fired.
During his first stint as head coach in Lincoln, McGroarty compiled an 84-75-21 record in three seasons. His teams made the Clark Cup playoffs twice, both times losing in the second round.
McGroarty joined the team after working for three seasons as an assistant coach with the Omaha Lancers. He was an assistant in Lincoln for one year before taking over as head coach in 2007.
“I strongly believe that life offers you second chances, and I’m thankful to the Stars for this opportunity,” said McGroarty. “I’m a passionate and emotional coach that hates to lose, and I plan to make the most of this second chance.”
Lincoln will have the benefit of not beginning its regular season until Sept. 27 at home against Cedar Rapids.
The Stars are in the midst of a rebuilding year with only four regulars from last season back in the Nebraska capital city. But, goaltender Michael Bitzer is one of the returners. He helped the Stars win 22 games between the pipes last year.