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'The heartbeat of USA Hockey': Rochester's Johannson inducted into U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame

Jim Johannson, a 1982 Rochester Mayo graduate, was a two-time Olympian, an NCAA national champion and was the assistant executive director of USA Hockey when he died in January of 2018. Johannson left a lasting impression through his work with more than a dozen USA national teams. Wednesday, he was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the RiverCentre in St. Paul.

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Jim Johannson, a 1982 Rochester Mayo High School graduate, was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame on Wednesday night during a ceremony at the RiverCentre in St. Paul. This banner hung in the lobby, just outside the ballroom where the induction ceremony was held. Johannson, a two-time Olympian, was the assistant executive director of USA Hockey when he died in January of 2018 at age 53.
Jason Feldman / Post Bulletin
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ST. PAUL — David Poile has been an NHL general manager for four decades.

He's hired and fired coaches, drafted hundreds of players and evaluated thousands more. He's worked with countless other GMs, team executives and scouts.

But the Nashville Predators GM of the past 24 years holds a special place in his heart for a guy who grew up in Rochester, a guy whose reach stretches across the hockey world.

Poile delivered an 8-minute, 29-second speech at the RiverCentre Wednesday night about Jim Johannson and his impact on USA Hockey. Poile said he could've talked all night about the 1982 Rochester Mayo graduate, who was one of five people inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, as part of the class of 2022.

"JJ was the heartbeat of USA Hockey for 20 years," Poile said, calling Johannson by the nickname that he was known by throughout professional and international hockey circles.

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Johannson spent 18 years as a USA Hockey executive, and was the assistant executive director of USA Hockey when he died unexpectedly on Jan. 21, 2018, at age 53.

Poile's speech came on the heels of a brief speech from Johannson's wife, Abby. She was joined on stage by their daughter, Ellie, who turns 7 on Thursday.

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Rochester native Jim Johannson died on Jan. 22, 2018, at age 53. Johannson, who was the assistant executive director of hockey operations at USA Hockey, is a 1982 Mayo High School graduate and a two-time Olympian. He was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame on Wednesday night at the RiverCentre in St. Paul.
File photo / USA Hockey

Hockey ran in the Johannson family's blood. Jim's father, Ken, played for the old Rochester Mustangs from 1957-68 and played for the U.S. in two World Championships. He later served as GM of the U.S. team for the 1979 world championships.

"To do the job that JJ did so well for so long, which is a lifestyle, requires sacrifice from his family," Poile said. "I think it was from his father that he learned the love of the sport and the satisfaction of the service of the game and the responsibility of giving back."

Jim Johannson knew and was respected by everyone at the highest levels of hockey in the U.S. His humble nature and soft-spokeness allowed anyone who conversed with him to feel heard and welcomed. Certainly, everyone at RiverCentre on Wednesday had a story or kind words to say about him.

"He is a pillar of USA Hockey," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.

"His passion and joy for the game is infections," said Ryan Miller, the winningest U.S.-born goalie in NHL history, who was also inducted into the Hall on Wednesday. "I'm glad JJ is being recognized here tonight."

Remembered fondly in Rochester

Jeff Whitney still remembers Jim Johannson as a quiet sophomore on the Rochester Mayo hockey team in 1979-80, Whitney's senior season.

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The rest of the hockey world remembers Johannson as an NCAA national champion, a two-time Olympian, and the architect of dozens of U.S. national team rosters. He was set to be the GM of the U.S. Olympic team at the 2018 Games, which started just days after he passed away.

No matter what role Johannson was taking on, though, Whitney, Mayo's activities director, said he was always the same person.

"Jimmy was a great teammate, always positive, always receptive," Whitney said in early September. "As a player, he just did his job. He came to play, wasn't arrogant in his play. You'd have never known that he'd go on to be a Division I guy or an Olympian. He was just part of the team, even though he had a lot of skills that were better than everyone else.
"He was that kind of leader."

That's how Johannson was remembered Wednesday night.

"This shows you can be a nice guy and you can be recognized for treating people with dignity," Johannson's brother John, a 1980 Mayo graduate, told the Post Bulletin in September, when the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame class of 2022 was announced. "It's a business in the end, pro sports. It's cut-throat by nature. It has to be. But here you have this outlier, Jimmy, who found a way to be this incredible person who treated people the way they'd want to be treated, with such dignity and respect — and he won because of it."

Jim Johannson is part of a standout class of inductees, which included Miller, who was a member of two Olympic teams; twin sisters Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux, 2018 Olympic gold medalists and six-time IIHF Women's World Championships gold medalists; and Steve Cash, a three-time Paralympic gold medalist and a five-time world champion who was the goaltender for the U.S. national Sled Hockey team for 16 years.

Jason Feldman is the sports editor of the Post Bulletin. In addition to managing the four-person sports staff at the PB, Jason covers high school football, golf and high school and junior hockey. Readers can reach Jason at 507-281-7430 or jfeldman@postbulletin.com.
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