Amer­i­cans play­ing with heavy hearts

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - WINTER OLYMPICS - Steve Sim­mons

Ben Smith turned on his phone, scrolled to a pho­to­graph, showed it, and for a mo­ment 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, her mom seated 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 age of 53. He will not be re­placed for the Olympics, quite pos­si­bly be­cause he can’t be re­placed. But there’s a Team USA jersey hang­ing in the Amer­i­can dress­ing room, his name on the back, the No. 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 easy words: Amer­i­can hockey.”

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