Jim Johannson, of USA Hockey, sits down for an Olympics Q & A
Just prior to the beginning of the games, Johannson made time to talk to City Pages about the outlook for the Men's team at these 2010 Vancouver Games.
Judd Spicer: How would you explain your own role and responsibility in selecting the Men's Olympic Hockey Team?
Jim Johannson: I was involved in the Management group that has evaluated the players over the past two seasons - Brian Burke (Toronto) is the GM of the team along with David Poile (Nashville) and we had a group of NHL GM's on our working committee - Paul Holmgren (Philadelphia), Don Waddell (Atlanta), Dean Lombardi (Los Angeles) and Ray Shero (Pittsburgh). At the Olympic Games I will mostly handle all the daily hockey operations, schedule, and just fulfilling all the team and staff needs.
J.S.: Prior to injury considerations, the average player age on the Men's team was just 26.5 years and has only three guys with previous Olympic experience. To what to you namely attribute the youth movement for Vancouver?
J.J.: The depth of our player pool has never been better and we have a young core of players that are ready for the Olympic stage - they have proven that every night in the NHL. In the
J.S.: Compared to your 2006 Olympic Men's team when you had three players that came via your National Development Team system, this year you have seven such skaters. Is that a concerted effort to go with guys that have spent more ice time together?
J.J.: I think it just shows the evolution of NTDP and the depth of players that have come through the program - from an "age eligible" standpoint there are 7 players out of 18 that fall into an age category that they could have played at NTDP - (the older guys we didn't have NTDP at the age when they came through). We are proud of that number and feel that NTDP has been successful in training players to be able to play at the highest level. Saying that, we are equally as proud of the many great programs - from grass roots hockey, high school hockey and junior hockey that have developed these wonderful players.
J.S.: Your Men's roster appears to be a great mesh of varied skill sets. Is that at all a result of, say, the way the Olympic hoops "Dream Teams" of yore evolved from going with the "best" players, to puzzling together the best "team"?
J.J.: We had several selections on this team that are designed to play a role, if you will, within a successful team. We have scorers, we have bangers, we have size, we have speed, power play guys, penalty killers, good faceoff guys - these are just a few of the areas that went into the selections. We also have a very versatile group of forwards that can be especially effective in several roles and play anywhere from our top scoring line to the checking roles.
J.S.: Your roster has goaltenders Tim Thomas, Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick. I've read that Miller is the favorite to see the majority of ice time. Is that accurate or yet-to-be determined?
J.J.: Ryan has obviously had an excellent season to date - overall we are happy with all three goalies and that will be a coaching decision. Tim Thomas is the reigning Vezina winner,
J.S.: Did you ever gather that moving on from some of the "Old Guard" NHL players ever upset any of the veterans?
J.J.: The nature of every player, especially at the NHL level, is to want to play in big games and I certainly feel that many players felt they deserved to be selected to the team. All the reports I have seen, and some of the players I have spoken to not selected, have been genuine in wanting USA Hockey to perform well at the Olympics. We had so many great players serve us for many years and they have been the guys that garnered USA Hockey the respect we now have on the International stage - for that we are very appreciative. It is always difficult to leave great players off a roster...time will tell if we have made the right selections.
J.S.: Since "Miracle on Ice" in 1980, the Men have medaled just once (silver in 2002). How would you handicap your chances this year against the likes of Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic?
J.J.: On paper, and it has been stated by several, the "experts" think we will be a factor, but not able to unseat the countries you mention. I say that is why we play the games ! Bottom line, I like our players, the chemistry and know how hard the guys will play. In the end at
most tournaments the most deserving team wins - we certainly respect all of our opponents and believe in the USA player's determination, skill and competitiveness.
J.S.: Looks like about a quarter of your roster has Minnesota connections via high school or college. Any bias there?
J.J.: It is a reflection of Minnesota doing a wonderful job across the board at all levels of hockey. The community-based youth programs in Minnesota are without question the best in the United States - the numbers show it at all levels of USA Hockey national teams - it has nothing to do with me growing up in Minnesota. The numbers are backing it up in both our men's and women's teams. We have so many great coaches, programs, facilities and, in the end, great athletes playing hockey in Minnesota.
J.S.: The NHL doesn't yet have an agreement for the 2014 Games in Sochi (Russia). Do you have an opinion on sticking with the pros, or going back to the amateurs?
J.J.: I am always a believer in "best on best" being what the Olympics are about. I know there are people that do not feel the NHL players or "professionals" should be in the Olympics. My answer to that is across every sport - summer and winter Olympics there is a "professional" element to virtually every sport. To have the best players in the world playing in the heart of hockey season to me is what the Olympics represent. I certainly hope it can get worked out for all parties for the NHL to continue to send their players to the Olympic games.