Simmons: Team USA is playing Olympic hockey with a heavy heart


PYEONGCHANG — Ben Smith turned on his phone, scrolled to a photograph, showed it, and for a moment he couldn’t speak at all.

The photo was of two-year-old Ellie, wearing a blue Team USA jersey, her father’s name and her last name stitched across the back, sitting in the stands at Gangneung Hockey Centre, hugging her puppy tightly, her mom seated right beside her.

“I love Ellie, but I’m sitting in the stands with the wrong Johannson,” said Smith, the director of player personnel for Team USA. “For the last 10 years, every time I’ve been at a hockey game, I’ve been sitting beside him. You get used to hearing his voice and his thoughts. And I keep expecting him to walk around the corner and sit down with us. His wife is here and his daughter is here and I’m thinking of our friendship, working with him, everybody’s here for this big event, but we’re missing the biggest guy of all.”

Jim Johannson, general manager of Team USA, died in his sleep 24 days ago at the very young age of 53. He will not be replaced for the Olympics, quite possibly because he can’t be replaced. But there is a Team USA jersey hanging in the American dressing room, his name on the back, the number 18 signifying the year of these Winter Olympic Games.

“The night of his wake was like a hockey party,” said Smith. “But there was one guy missing. And you just kept thinking, he was going to walk in there and everything would be all right. Because that was the kind of guy Jim was. He was always trying to make people comfortable and happy. And to tell you the truth, it really feels bizarre for him not to be here. He was, in a couple of …read more

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