US men’s Olympic hockey team architect Johannson dead at 53

USA Hockey executive Jim Johannson, pictured in 2012, was best known for assembling talented teams for nearly two decades

Washington (AFP) – Jim Johannson, who assembled this year’s US Olympic men’s ice hockey team without NHL talent, died in his sleep Sunday morning at his Colorado home. He was 53.

The USA Hockey executive’s passing comes 19 days before the opening ceremony at next month’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and the American team’s bid for its first gold medal since the 1980 Lake Placid “Miracle on Ice” squad almost certainly will be dedicated to Johannson.

“We are beyond shocked and profoundly saddened,” said USA Hockey executive director Pat Kelleher. “He was the absolute best, most humble, kind and caring person you could ever hope to meet. His impact on our sport and more importantly the people and players in our sport have been immeasurable.”

Serving as USA Hockey’s assistant executive director, Johannson joined the governing body in 2000 to manage US Olympic activities, was promoted to hockey operations director in 2003 and took his latest post in 2007 to guide all US international teams.

During his tenure, US teams captured 64 medals in major global events, 34 of them gold.

“In building the teams that achieved so much success for USA Hockey, Jim Johannson had a sharp eye for talent, a strong sense of chemistry and a relentless pursuit of excellence,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. “The NHL family’s respect for Jim’s contributions to hockey, at all levels, is exceeded only by our shock and sorrow over his sudden passing.”

Johannson, who played for the Americans in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics, won a US college crown at Wisconsin, but was best known for assembling talented teams for nearly two decades.

“Jim’s positive influence was enormous and will be felt for generations to come,” said US Hockey president Jim Smith. “Today we are a medal contender every time we put a team on the ice and he played a major role in helping us get to that point. It’s a sad day for all of us.”

His crowning glory might have come on January 1 with the naming of the US squad for Pyeongchang, having been forced to assemble players from Europe, minor leagues and college ranks after NHL owners decided not to shut down for this Olympics and let players compete for their homelands as they had since 1998.

“I’ve had a lot of fun at USA Hockey but one of the most fun days I’ve had was calling fifteen or sixteen guys early one morning from my house to tell them they were on the 2018 Olympic team,” Johannson said earlier this month.

– ‘Tears just keep rolling’ –

Tributes came from around the world and all levels of the sport.

“Today we all lost a Dear friend and I am heartbroken Jim is not longer with us. It is devastating,” tweeted Sweden’s Peter Forgoers, a retired NHL star with two Stanley Cups and two Olympic gold medals. “Jim has always been a fantastic person and I cant believe he is not with us.”

“Our absolute deepest condolences to the family and entire USA Hockey organisation,” tweeted Hockey Canada. “Jim was a well-respected builder of our great game.”

NHL Nashville Predators coach Peter La violette was heartbroken.

“Such a devastating loss for all of us,” he said. “Today I lost a roommate, a teammate, a colleague and a great friend. One of my saddest days in a very long time as tears just keep rolling down my face.”