When Ben Smith got word there was going to be a golf tournament to support Jim Johannson, he was ready to do whatever he could to make it successful.
Smith would do anything for his longtime friend who unexpectedly died in January. Johannson was a lifelong hockey player, hockey advocate at the national and international levels and the face of USA Hockey in many aspects as the organization’s assistant executive director.
Smith rounded up some of the best and most recognizable names to wear the Team USA sweater to play in the annual USA Hockey Foundation Golf Classic. All the proceeds benefited the Jim Johannson Legacy Fund. Johannson is survived by his wife, Abby, and their 2-year-old daughter, Ellie.
“I was trying to reach out to some of the guys in the area who had worn the national jersey at different levels,” Smith said.
Smith rounded up 18 former national team players — Johannson played a vital role in selecting and notifying members each year. Eight Olympians, four Hobey Baker winners — including Buffalo Sabres star Jack Eichel — and a number of NHL coaches were also in attendance at The Golf Classic, which was held at The Golf Club at Turner Hill in Ipswich, Massachusetts, on Aug. 13. In all, 71 golfers participated and there were 89 attendees.
Chris Bourque came up through the hockey ranks playing on various teams with USA Hockey. Johannson was the person who called Bourque to share the good word he had made the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team.
“JJ is one of the first people when you think USA Hockey,” Bourque said. “He was the one who called me and told me I made the team; it’s one of the best phone calls I’ve gotten in my life. It was obviously a no-brainer to go support the foundation at the tournament.”
Johannson’s footprint on hockey was enormous. Smith believes it was important for those impacted by Johannson to take part in the event.
“Jim leaves obviously a mammoth footprint here in America, but it also casts a shadow all across the globe with his association with players of international experience and the friendships that he’s made through hockey across the globe,” Smith said.
For the players who competed, golf was just an afterthought.
“It was probably 5 percent golf and then the other 95 percent for the foundation and obviously JJ’s family,” Bourque said. “It was good to see his wife and young daughter. It’s all about them, and that’s why everyone showed up. I don’t think anyone was there just for the golf.”
Abby Johannson and her daughter have received an outpouring of support from everyone in the hockey community, especially during the golf outing.
“The event itself was terrific,” Abby said. “There were several coaches and players and former administrators and people that had come across paths with our lives together and had certainly known JJ from the hockey end. I think it was a really, really nice tribute and I think a lot of those people played specifically as a tribute to JJ and the Legacy Fund in JJ’s name. It was really wonderful.”
Abby knows how proud her husband was of their daughter.
“For Ellie, she may not remember all these experiences,” she said. “I think it will be nice as she gets older that she can hear about them and learn about them and help her understand what a special person her dad really was.”
Smith put together a great foursome for the tournament, which featured some his former players at Boston University: New York Rangers coach David Quinn, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan and Penguins Director of Player Development Scott Young. Along with being coaches, the guys are solid on the golf course.
“As I’ve always said in coaching, ‘Get off the bus with the best players,’” Smith joked.
Smith and his team won the tournament on a cold and windy day with a score of 9-under par.
Abby knows the golf tournament was something her husband would have loved.
“JJ was a really avid golfer,” she said. “He loved golf. If it weren’t for hockey, he’d be out on the golf course as much as he could.”
Smith and Johannson trace their friendship all the way back to the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in which Johannson was a player on the U.S. Olympic Men’s Team and Smith was a coach. The two shared a bond for nearly 30 years.
“The hockey world’s pretty small and I think JJ was one of those guys that really made it small, kept it tight, kept people together from coast to coast,” Smith said. “And I think that’s one of the things he’ll be remembered for, how many people he touched.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.