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Eric Johnson of Minnetonka coaches during Hockey Day Minnesota in 2014. He guided the Skippers to three straight state Class AA championships (2011-13).

Eric Johnson had a tough decision to make after his Minnetonka High girls hockey team finished third in the State Class AA Tournament last month.

On the one hand, he had loved coaching the Skippers for the last 14 years. But on the other hand, he knew it was time to spend more time with his family. The family considerations won out, and Johnson stepped down to spend more time with his wife Michele and his three sons, who are all traveling hockey players in the Minnetonka system.

“The highlight of my career coaching the girls isn’t the three championships, it’s the relationships with the players and their families,” Johnson said. “Of course, it is fun to win, and there have been bright spots every season, but the main thing for me is that it has been such a privilege to coach here. The administration has always been very helpful. We have great facilities, and the people of Minnetonka make it special. I have just enjoyed this for so long.”

When Johnson took the Minnetonka girls hockey job at the beginning of the 2005-06 season, he had a vision to make the program successful. He knew he would need a good feeder system, and now he has one of the best in the state.

“We have 275 girls in the youth program this year,” he said. “We have great coaches, and that’s where our good sportsmanship comes from. I can’t imagine a better place to coach high school hockey.”

Adam Kragthorpe, who has coached with Johnson for all 14 seasons, has three sons of his own, all 11 or younger. And he is looking forward to spending more time with them.

“Adam has always done an incredible job with our defensemen,” Johnson said.

Kragthorpe trained such defensive greats as Rachel Ramsey, Sydney Baldwin, Kailey Langefels, Katie McMillan, U.S. Olympian Sidney Morin and current All-State player Maggie Nicholson.

Minnetonka’s third-place finish in this year’s state tourney was somewhat surprising, considering the Skippers entered the Section 2AA playoffs with an 11-13-1 record. By the time the state tourney ended at Xcel Energy Center, the Skippers were holding a trophy and a 16-14-1 mark.

Lacey Martin was incredible during the Section 2AA tourney and led the Skippers past top-seeded Eden Prairie in the finals.

Minnetonka almost upset Edina in the state semifinals before losing 2-1 on a goal in the final minute of the third period.

“We were one goal away from maybe winning the whole thing,” Johnson said.

The Skipper roster included only three seniors - linemates Molly McHugh, Kailey Langefels and Kate Hoelscher - and the experience gained this year will make the Skippers a state contender again next season.

“Coaching the high school team has been harder for me the last couple years,” Johnson said. “My wife has been the hero of the family driving our sons to their hockey practices and games most of the time.”

The hardest thing about stepping down was the day Johnson shared his decision with the players.

“I think the girls were surprised,” he observed. “I told them that I am very optimistic about the future of the program, and that I will be watching from the stands as their No. 1 fan. The years are flying by for my sons, and it is time to share moments with them.”

Johnson, who played hockey for Armstrong High School and St. Cloud State University, said switching roles from a varsity coach to a hockey parent is something he had considered for several years. His sons are currently in grades 8, 5 and 2, and Johnson felt this would be the right juncture to invest more time with them.

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