NHL American-born stars skate for Johannson’s family and legacy
More than 30 of the top American-born players in the NHL who competed in the Stars & Stripes Showdown, gather for a group shot at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth. (Hockey Weekly photos by John Castine)
Jim Johannson was truly loved by USA Hockey’s most elite athletes.
Proof of that came on Sunday at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth at the Stars & Stripes Showdown, which was a benefit for Jim Johannson Legacy Fund of the USA Hockey Foundation and the Ellie Johannson College Fund.
Johansson, USA Hockey’s assistant executive director of hockey operations, died in January of heart disease at the age of 53. One of his responsibilities was putting together the national teams that represent the United States in international competition.
More than 30 of the top American-born players in the NHL – who all paid their own way to the event on one of their last free weekends before training camps begin in mid-September – skated in a freewheeling game before a sellout crowd of 3,830.
How freewheeling? Team Blue defeated Team White, 14-9.
Taking part were Red Wings Dylan Larkin, who was a driving force behind organizing the event, as well as Justin Abdelkader, Luke Glendening and Jimmy Howard.
Other notable players included Chicago’s Patrick Kane, Toronto’s Auston Matthews, Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau, Philadelphia’s James van Riemsdyk and Columbus’ Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, a UM alum and Grosse Pointe native.
“It was a great tribute to a great person,” Pat Kelleher, executive director to USA Hockey, said on the organization’s website. “To see all those players out there and give back to the sport and to the family makes today spectacular day for USA Hockey and for hockey in our country.”
In addition to the game, festivities included a live game-worn jersey auction; an online auction featuring game-worn jerseys and autographed NHL memorabilia; in-arena raffles, and a post-game meet & greet with players and coaches.
“I would like to thank everyone for coming to the game and for watching online,” Larkin said. “We need to do our part to continue JJ's legacy, and this was a fun way with our busy NHL schedules to do that. It won’t be the last time we do a game like this.”
The coaches were Detroit bench boss Jeff Blashill, Wisconsin Badgers coach and former Red Wings assistant coach Tony Granato, New Jersey Devils mentor John Hynes and new New York Rangers coach David Quinn.
“That was ... I don't even know what to say. It still doesn't seem real. You feel for the family,” Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise said on ESPN.com. “There’s so much that he did for me, individually, but there’s so much that he did for us as a team.”
Johansson’s widow, Abby, with their daughter Ellie on her shoulder, spoke after the game.
“The fact that the players organized it made it so much more special,” she said. “JJ was so proud of Ellie. I think he’s the proudest father I’ve ever seen. It’s really special that they would want to do something to help Ellie” with her college fund.
“More importantly, while she might not remember this day perfectly, looking back she’ll have the opportunity to remember what a special person her father was.”
The idea was born at the 2018 IIHF World Championships in Denmark in May, the first international tournament with NHL players participating since Johansson's passing. Johansson’s spirit loomed over the tournament, in which the U.S. won bronze.
“We really did rally around JJ at Worlds,” Larkin said. “We wanted to bring a medal home for him.”
He decided he wanted to help organize something in Johannson’s honor. At first it was going to be a game that featured current and former Red Wings players. But when his fellow national team members found out about it, they all vowed to take part, even superstars like Kane and Matthews.
“You know, it’s easy for guys to say they’re going to play in a game like this, and it was a nice thought, you know?” said John Johannson, Jim’s brother. “But they’re here. And I’d tell everyone in that room that, as good as they are at hockey, they just proved they’re even better people.”
Also playing in the game were Charlie McAvoy (Boston Bruins), Cam Atkinson (Columbus Blue Jackets), Ryan Suter (Minnesota Wild) and his teammate Parise, Cam Fowler (Anaheim Ducks, Farmington Hills), Jacob Trouba (Winnipeg Jets, Rochester, UM), Anders Lee (New York Islanders), Alex DeBrincat (Chicago Blackhawks, Farmington Hills), Brady Skjei (New York Rangers), Craig Anderson (Ottawa Senators),Kyle Connor (Winnipeg Jets, U of M, Shelby Township), Anders Bjork (Boston Bruins),Andrew Copp (Winnipeg Jets, UM, Ann Arbor), Patrick Eaves (Anaheim Ducks), Colin White (Ottawa Senators) J.T. Compher (Colorado Avalanche, UM), Connor Murphy (Chicago Blackhawks), Matthew Tkachuk (Calgary Flames), Noah Hanifin (Calgary Flames), Connor Hellebuyck (Winnipeg Jets, Commerce), Jake McCabe (Buffalo Sabres), Jack Roslovic (Winnipeg Jets), Matt Hunwick (Buffalo Sabres, UM, Warren) and Patrick Sieloff (Ottawa Senators).