Jim Johannson, the general manager of USA Hockey who helped put together an American Olympic team without NHL players, died Sunday at the age of 53. Many tributes to Jim's legacy have been published in the time since, including one from ESPN prospect writer Chris Peters. We reached out to a number of prominent American hockey players, coaches and execs to get their thoughts on "JJ." Those thoughts are published here, in their own words:
ESPN senior NHL writer Greg Wyshynski contributed to this story.
Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild defenseman
He was, in my opinion, Mr. USA Hockey. He ran the show. When JJ was involved, things went the way they were supposed to go. He would do it all. He would be the guy that set up all of the flights. He'd meet you at the airport. When he first started, he was the guy that did everything. As he grew older with his role, he was in charge but still had a hand in everything because he wanted to make sure things were smooth for the players. Whenever you were around him, he had a smile on his face.
I give him most of the credit for where USA Hockey is today. He put so much passion and energy into it. He was with us in Finland when we won the first World Junior gold medal [in 2004], and I know that was really close to him because I talked about that with him. If things didn't go well in a tournament or a specific game, he would be disappointed, but he had a great attitude. It was always, "We'll have to be better the next one." It was always the next tournament or the next game or the next situation. He always said, "How can we make it better?"
Ray Shero, New Jersey Devils GM
It might have been during the lockout, when I was in Nashville, me and Jim McKenzie, the former player, are coaching a kid's team together. That's when you have to have your level two coaching certificate [to coach youth teams]. Who calls me but [Stanley Cup-winning coach] Terry Crisp. "I want to help out, but I need some certificate." I'm like, "Hold my beer." JJ takes care of [getting the certificate]. I just called JJ. He just did those things.
It could be meetings with David Poile, Stan Bowman, Dean Lombardi, Dale Tallon. When we [while putting together national teams] were talking about players, we'd always look at JJ and say, "JJ, what do you think?" We'd always want his opinion. He was an incredible administrator, but he was a hockey guy. He was our version of Hockey DB.
We get over to Sochi. We're in our rooms, and it's in the village. Everyone rooms together. Me and Burkie [Brian Burke] are roommates, and we have twin beds. It's a suite setup, and outside is another room, and that's JJ's room. When we get there, one of his phones is ringing. He picks it up: "What? OK. Oh, Jesus. I'm on it." And we ask him what's wrong. We're thinking we left someone behind or someone got hurt on the way to the airport. He says, "No, it's JVR [James van Riemsdyk]. He doesn't have any toilet paper. I'll be right back." I'm like, "What! Are you f---ing kidding me? Get your own f---ing toilet paper." And he was like "Yeah, I'll take care of it. No problem." Nothing was too big or too small.
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks winger
He was so into his job. He would come up with this daily newspaper thing -- he called it "The National" -- and he'd throw it under your door every morning. Whether it was Olympics, World Juniors, World Cup, even when I played at World Championships one time, he always did it. You'd wake up and check the newspaper that he created, and you'd get your schedule for the day. There was always a quote of the day on there, then the standings of the tournament. He'd give an update of what was going on, recaps of different games. It was something to look forward to every morning: seeing that paper that he put together.
John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks goalie
"The National!" I actually forgot about that. I remember in Germany, at our under-18 tournament, and he'd always put "The National" under the door. It would be whatever the weather would be, then the scores of all the NHL games and a fun fact. He kept it light and entertaining. That's just the type of person he was.
He was the guy who helped pick the team, but once you're in the tournament and playing on the team, he was always the guy that would come in and talk to the guys. I don't think he wanted to be a coach. He just told you what he expected and reminded you of the USA Hockey legacy, which of course he helped build. Everyone had the utmost respect for him. Anytime he talked, everyone made sure they would listen because he's been a part of so many teams, so many championships and medals.
Jeff Blashill, Detroit Red Wings coach
One of the things that stood out about JJ: He was in a position of power, which means it would be easy to have lots of enemies and lots of people upset at him. But all he had was friends. I saw that firsthand at the World Championships. In the international community, he was beloved. He wanted what was best for USA Hockey, but really he wanted what was best for the game.
His job was stressful. It was chaotic. He had things coming at him from a million different angles. But he handled it with ease. The positivity with which he lived his life was awesome. There were tough times, but there were no bad days. I had a chance to be real close to him last spring for a month. He was so proud to be a father. I don't know his daughter, but I feel I do, based off the number of photos I saw of her and updates on what she was doing. USA hockey is a top power in international hockey, the number of Americans playing in the NHL today ... that's a direct result of Jim's work.
Nick Foligno, Columbus Blue Jackets winger
I always appreciated how genuine he was. He really cared about the players playing for his teams. It was never a business for him. As much as it was -- and putting the best players on the ice -- it didn't feel like that. He was the guy who would call you when you make a World Championships team, and as you got older, he would call you to see if you were interested because he knew people had families.
I remember him telling me he was going to be a father. Not even about hockey. Just how excited he was. He was going to be an older dad. I had just had a kid. And here I am, giving him pointers as a younger guy of what to expect in being a dad. He was almost a friend. That's the hardest part: You're losing such a good person in the game. He always had to speak at dinners. He was always pretty hilarious, especially if he had a couple drinks. He was just a joy to be around. He loved to be able to say he worked for USA Hockey. In return, we were so proud to be around him.
Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils goalie
I have been part of USA Hockey on and off since I was 17 years old, and he was a at every single event I participated in. It didn't matter what event or what age group -- he was always there. He was the constant. He coordinated everything.
We had some pretty hairy moments traveling to Belarus when I was with the under-18s. Everyone was stuck in Europe, and it was up to him. He scrambled to get everyone on a plane from Moscow, like single-handedly putting out the fire. He had all of the answers and got everyone on our way. Problem solved.
Ryan Miller, Anaheim Ducks goalie
It was really a great opportunity for him to be the general manager in these Olympics, the way it was shaking out. Without the NHL affiliation, it was really falling on the USA Hockey staff. He put so much time and effort into USA Hockey, and it was a big moment for him to be the decider and run a team.
He was a fun guy to be around. A lot of guys might remember his laugh. He had this big laugh. When we'd be at a tournament together, we'd be together for two to three weeks as a group. He was the guy you could rely on to know what was going on. He made sure everyone got to the tournament, and when we were there, [he knew] where to go. Even the coaches knew he'd be the one on top of everything. That's why I thought he'd be great in taking the next step forward as the general manager.
Ryan Hartman, Blackhawks winger
When I first got to the [National Team Development Program], he called my parents and really took the time to explain the program. He explained why your son should be playing in this program, what it's all about, what they should expect. That meant a lot to them. He had an impact on so many careers. He helped accelerate my career, he helped accelerate a lot of careers, and it has to do with him.
We have an assistant [with the Blackhawks], a guy who has been interning with us, and JJ helped him get here. He treats everyone with respect. He cared about everyone. With a guy who had as much power as he did, as much control as he did, people get big egos. But you could never tell with him.
Cam Fowler, Ducks defenseman
To be honest with you, I didn't get a whole lot of face time with JJ. A lot of the interaction with him was on the phone or a few questions I had at tournaments. But I always felt like he was there for me.
He gave me my first few opportunities to compete for the World Championships when I was a pretty young player. I didn't realize it at the time, but those were special experiences for someone my age. Getting to travel overseas and representing my country -- JJ had a lot to do with that. You always felt like you were in good hands, but they also take care of you like you're one of their own kids when you're over there. It can be intimidating as a young kid going over there by yourself. Slovakia. Sweden. Finland. The flights are taken care of. He puts you in the proper accommodation. If you want to bring a family member, he made sure they're taken care of, too.