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U.S. wants World Championship gold to honor late USA Hockey executive

Johannson, who had hand in national teams at all levels since 2000, died Jan. 21

by Aaron Vickers / Correspondent

HERNING, Denmark -- The United States is trying to win the gold medal at the 2018 IIHF World Championship for more than themselves.

They want to win to honor the memory of Jim Johannson, the assistant executive director of USA Hockey who died at 53 on Jan. 21.


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Johannson had been with USA Hockey since 2000, and among his many roles were overseeing the selection of U.S. men's national teams, from the under-18 level to the World Championship.

"Anytime I get to represent USA Hockey I'm going to try to jump on that and take that advantage because not many players get the chance to do that," U.S. and Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau said. "But with what happened with JJ (Johannson) … we haven't won this tournament since I don't even know, it's been a long time. It'd be special."

To honor Johannson, each member of the U.S. is carrying a gold coin at the tournament.

Abby Johannson, Jim's widow, and John Johannson, his brother, helped design the coin, which was based on the template of a U.S. Navy SEAL coin given to U.S. general manager and Columbus Blue Jackets assistant GM Bill Zito.

It features a USA Hockey logo and American flag on one side, and a shield with JJ on the other.

Fittingly, it's made of gold.

"You're hesitant to attach a narrative to him because you can never be complete," Zito said. "When I think about him you just smile. To me, I guess it was, on a human level, he reached out and he was sincere, legitimate friends with so many different people in hockey. I think I would say that would be the biggest thing. And I don't know if I was able to learn anything from it other than appreciate it. But you'd aspire … I have a little boy. You know, you hope that one day he could be like Jimmy. No one could. It's impossible. I don't know. He helped a lot of people."

Video: Remembering Jim Johannson

Among those people is Including Gaudreau, who first met Johannson after he was cut from the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship team.

"He was very nice about it," Gaudreau said. "Helped me out, getting back home, getting back to [Boston College]. He's like, 'Don't worry, you'll be back next year … go back and have fun.' I was very fortunate to meet him there.

"I've had four or five tournaments with him. It was definitely sad news to hear about him but it's exciting to come here and play for him and represent the country this time around."

The U.S. last won World Championship gold in 1960, when the Squaw Valley Olympics doubled as the World Championship. The last standalone World Championship for the United States came in 1933.

This year they went 4-2-0-1 to finish second in Group B, and will play the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals Thursday (10 a.m. ET; NHLN, TSN).

"(Johannson) was always very supportive of me and my career and invited me to play for a lot of different teams," said Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, the U.S. captain for the Worlds. "He was great for everyone.

"To be honest, I always felt, even before he passed, we owed him something when he asked us to come to these tournaments. I kind of feel bad in some sort of aspect because he wasn't here for this one. I always felt like I owed him something to be able to come and play in these tournaments."

During Johannson's tenure, the U.S. won 64 medals (34 gold, 19 silver, 11 bronze) in major international competition.

But his touch extended far beyond those results.

"Everyone had varying relationships with him (and) regardless of the level … even if you haven't met him and you're on this team … he had an impact on your success because of what he's done for USA Hockey," U.S. coach Jeff Blashill of the Detroit Red Wings said. "Nobody has done more to help grow the game in the U.S. than Jim Johannson.

"We miss him every day, and when you're in this tournament you miss him. He was a glue for USA Hockey in so many ways, and a glue internationally. A special, special person."

Video: Hockey family pays their respects to Jim Johannson

Johannson's passing has provided a unifying goal for the U.S.

"He has a special place in my heart and all the players' hearts," Gaudreau said. "He was kind of the definition of USA Hockey for so many years there. This tournament is pretty important for us. You can tell between each guy how important it is. I think the guys want to win it for JJ.

"It's exciting times right now for us to be playing for him."

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