A former recipient of the Wisconsin Ms. Hockey Award, Paige Johnson continued her proficient ways in a fantastic four year run with the Wisconsin-River Falls Falcons of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC). Masterfully combining sound fundamentals on defense while providing a spectacular proficiency on offense, the pride of Marshfield, Wisconsin registered double digits in assists and points in all four of her Falcons seasons. Such a presence was just as impactful on special teams, logging at least one power play goal in each of her seasons
Undoubtedly, the greatest achievement of her Falcons career involves the prestige of being recognized as an NCAA Division III All-American for the third straight year. In such a celebrated career, it only adds to the euphoria of a significant haul of hockey hardware, including multiple All-WIAC honors, recognition as UWRF’s Newcomer of the Year in 2014, plus a spot on the 2015 NCAA Division III Championship All-Tournament Team, respectively. While the All-America nods (two First-Team, one Second-Team) represent her proudest individual achievement, her genuineness earnestly glosses, praising the presence of those she called teammates, mentors and acquaintances as substantial influences in her fulfilling body of work,
“I am extremely proud of what I was able to accomplish. I owe a lot of it to the awesome coaches and teammates that I have had over the years. Without them constantly guiding and pushing me to be better, I never would have been able to accomplish what I did. Looking back, I see my greatest achievement as being named an All-American my last three years.”
Off the ice, Johnson was just as prominent. Honored during every season with a spot on the WIAC Scholastic Honor Roll, her academic focus involves majoring in accounting and business administration, while also working towards a minor in finance. Managing such demanding commitments as a Student-Athlete demonstrates an admirable effort which encompasses the post-secondary hockey experience. Reflecting philosophically on such satisfying achievement, Johnson’s wisdom surges to the surface, realizing that the values shaped during this latest chapter of her athletic odyssey can establish and augment the foundation for a successful vocation once she hangs her skates,
“Being a student-athlete can open a lot of doors for many athletes. Playing sports, while maintaining good grades in school, shows employers a lot about the athlete’s integrity and drive to succeed. It takes a lot of work and time to succeed as a student-athlete, and employers want employees that can succeed under similar circumstances.”
Statistically, Johnson’s senior season resulted in a career best 17 assists. Finishing with 22 points, she was one point shy of matching her high of 23 points, achieved in her sophomore season. Of note, it was one of the finest sophomore seasons assembled in program history. Johnson ascended to superstar status, following a breakout season where she led all WIAC blueliners in scoring. Ranking fifth overall in NCAA Division III play among blueliners, it resulted in the primary milestone of being named a First-Team All American.
The road towards another First-Team All-America nod in her senior season included another consistent series of offensive performances, maintaining the Falcons’ status as one of the premier teams in conference play. Among such memorable highlights during her senior season involved a stellar eight game scoring streak which lasted from January 10 to 27, 2017. Just four days before said streak began, a three assist performance on January 6, 2017 versus Concordia, Minnesota reflected her finest offensive output. Earlier in the season, Johnson also recorded a pair of three game scoring streaks.
Logging 10 points during her memorable streak, spanning almost a month, the Falcons boasted a perfect win-loss mark of 8-0, outscoring opponents by an astounding cumulative score of 44-5. Starting with three straight shutouts, including a 10-0 whitewash at Northland College on January 14, which saw nine different Falcons record at least one point. Johnson would manage a pair of multi-point performances in this stretch, recording a pair of assists in a 7-1 win against the UW-Stevens Point Bludogs, which took place on January 21, plus another two assist game against Wisconsin-Superior on January 27.
Before the season would reach its end, Johnson would assemble a mini-scoring streak of two games. Ending the regular season with a goal against St. Scholastica, the postseason would begin with the fourth multi-point effort of the season. Competing against archrival Wisconsin Superior, Johnson would record a goal and an assist in a 5-1 final. Scoring the first goal of the third period, slipping the puck past Kim Kobar with the assist credited to Dani Sibley, Johnson would collaborate with Hailey Herdine on a third period marker by Carly Moran in what would prove to be her final multi-point performance. Simultaneously, it was also her final collegiate points. Amassing a total of 78 points, on the strength of 60 assists, Johnson is perched among the program’s defensive scoring leaders.
One element that shines brighter than the statistical efficiency that has established Johnson as a foremost blueliner in Falcons lore involves the on-ice glories that have resulted in a roster built on unity and devotion attain numerous titles. Among such glories involves winning the O’Brien Cup, awarded to the WIAC conference postseason champion, in each of her four seasons with the Falcons.
Undoubtedly, the overtime dramatics which involved Johnson’s fourth and final O’Brien Cup produced a series of memories that will be treasured for as long as hockey holds a treasured place in her heart. With Hunt Arena in River Falls, Wisconsin serving as the backdrop for the 2017 edition of the O’Brien Cup finals, there was an element of closure for her, realizing that her career had truly reached its twilight.
Taking on the Wisconsin-Eau Claire Blugolds (the three previous Cup wins all took place against UW Stevens Point), Johnson led the defensive unit into an intense on-ice battle, while fellow senior and 2017 Laura Hurd Award winner Dani Sibley helped set the tone on offense as she recorded a three-assist game. Carly Moran would emerge as the game’s hero, etching her name into Cup annals, scoring twice, including the overtime winner in a 3-2 final, providing the Falcons with their 26th win of the season.
For Johnson to finish her career with both the O’Brien Cup, and a chance to grace the ice for the NCAA Division III Tournament for the fourth fantastic time in her Falcons career, both milestones running parallel to each other, it represents a proud series of pinnacles for such an influential competitor. To share in these pinnacles an accomplished senior class that also includes Emily Stark, Carina Randazzo, Sibley and Lydia Wagner serves as a glorious send off for a group of celebrated Falcons that soared to great summits.
“Since the WIAC conference started my freshman year, the O’Brien Cup has yet to leave our rink. We have also made it to the NCAA Tournament all four years that I have been here. There are not many people that can say that, and that alone (is) pretty awesome. Both of these accomplishments mean a lot, not just to me, but our program as well.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: UWRF Communications, Senior night photo featuring Emily Stark, Carina Randazzo, Dani Sibley and Lydia Wagner Image obtained from Facebook