As coach Tony Granato pores over video to prepare for the Olympics, he constantly reminds himself of something.
This was Jim Johannson’s team. And to Granato, it still is even after the unexpected death of the United States general manager.
“From start to finish it will be and always will be,” Granato said of Johannson, a close friend.
With that in mind, USA Hockey won’t name a new GM to replace Johannson for the upcoming Olympics. Instead, director of player personnel Ben Smith will take over any managerial duties Johannson would have been responsible for. Executive director Pat Kelleher said he hopes the team “is a true reflection on Jimmy’s work.”
“We are not replacing Jim as the general manager of this team,” Kelleher said Wednesday. “There will only ever be one general manager of the 2018 men’s Olympic team.”
Johannson selected the coaching staff and 25-man roster for the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team, which will play without NHL participants for the first time since 1994. That included hand-picking Granato, a teammate on the 1988 Olympic team who’s now coaching at Wisconsin.
Granato plans to make his team’s first meeting in South Korea about Johannson and ways to honor him. The tournament begins Feb. 14.
“In respect to him and to make him proud, we are going to do everything we can to play inspired, to represent us in the way that Jimmy wanted to and drew this whole thing out for us to do,” Granato said. “I think the balance of the team that we put together and that J.J. envisioned it to be is exactly what it is right now, and now we have to go perform.”
Johannson, who was in the midst of his most high-profile role in 17 years at USA Hockey, called players in December to tell them they’d made the team, a joy he gushed about to Granato and others. He died at age 53 on Jan. 21, less than three weeks after the roster was announced.
Granato said players are healthy, though if any injury replacements need to be made, Smith will be in charge. Smith was an assistant on the 1988 Olympic team and coached the U.S. women’s teams in 1998, 2002 and 2006 and had a hand in the selection of this roster.
Granato expects to use Johannson’s phrase “100 percent” and other things to remember him at the Olympics. Players who have known him from previous world juniors, world championships and this selection process hope to make good on his trust in them.
“His message the whole time was everyone has a story, and the Olympic Games, he’s right, it’s all about the stories,” defenseman Matt Gilroy said. “He was putting together a team with 25 guys with special stories and he wanted that team at the end of the Olympic Games to have a great story, so that’s definitely going to be motivation for all of us.”