With close to four decades of coaching experience, Swift Current's Larry Johnson was a fitting recipient of a SaskEnergy Volunteer Champion Award this past Sunday.
A surprise presentation was made to Johnson before the Swift Current WW Smith Titans took the the ice for a Midget AA league game at the Fairview Arena. Johnson was nominated by the Swift Current Minor Hockey Association to receive the recognition.
He has been involved with coaching from the novice through to the Midget AAA ranks with the boys, and has continued to coach girls and women's hockey over the past number of years. He is also one of the founders and remains involved with the Swift Current Wheelchair Hockey program which gives opportunities to individuals of all abilities to play hockey.
"I appreciate it and I've enjoyed every moment of all those years," Johnson said after receiving the award. "It just shows they appreciate the people that have put in the time, and the commitment. And there are lots of individuals over the years, and going on right now, that deserve the award as well."
He had the chance to coach his son Darren through the Tom Thumb, PeeWee, Bantam, Midget, and he supported daughter Kris through her ringette career. But he also remained involved with the game long after his children were through the minor hockey system.
"I like to be active with the young people. They make me feel young. Young people of today, and over the years, have just been tremendous to be around."
Johnson believes in teaching more than just Xs and Os, as players need to know the right way to play.
"I just try to teach them to understand the game, to think the game and understand it," he said. "I think I do have something to offer them in the way of a hockey program. That's why I'm involved."
He highlights that there are off ice lessons to be learned by participating in hockey as well.
"We devote a lot of time on the life skills, the important part of life - your family, commitment to school. The hockey program is next in line behind family and school."
Over his years as a coach Johnson has enjoyed a series of championship seasons.
"I've been lucky with the teams and the players that come along. I've been fortunate that we. We have a few placards on the wall at home," he smiled.
Thinking back over the years, he recalls the teams more than the individuals athletes.
"I enjoy all of the players. They all have their own personalities. The skill level of any team there are always some that are a little bit more skilled. It's the personality of each player, and trying to put all those personalities together to make a team and work as a team."
"There are a few that have gone further in life in the hockey program than others. And it's a great feeling to have been involved with them. Each one of them that I coached I've enjoyed," noting a couple of players have landed in the NHL and Bobbi Jo Slusar has gone on to skate with Team Canada in international women's hockey.
Johnson, who had his whole family at the rink to watch him get his special recognition during a chilly Jan. 20 evening, said family support has also allowed him to put so much into the sport over the years.