The Olympics Winter Games may come around once every four years for the casual hockey fan, but for Jim Johannson, the assistant executive director for hockey operations for USA Hockey, it’s an everyday mission. The two-time Olympian (1988 and 1992) has his finger on the pulse of American hockey year round, working constantly on ensuring the U.S. Men’s and Women’s Olympic Teams are the best prepared group of athletes USA Hockey can put on the ice. Johannson recently took time away from his work with the U.S. National Junior Team competing at the 2008 IIHF World Under-20 Championship to answer a few questions about what lay ahead for the United States in 2010 in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The Olympics are two years away. How much planning have you done to prepare for the event?
We have had meetings with the (International Ice Hockey Federation) and with (Vancouver Olympic Committee) people. The arena we’ll play many of our games in is a known building to us from World Juniors in 2005, and the second rink is being built. The schedule format is known, but TV and our seeding will not be known until after the 2009
World Championships, so we just have to be patient with that process.
What are the timelines for naming the U.S. Team?
The Team USA general manager will most likely be named in the summer of 2008 (after the IIHF World Championship in Halifax and Quebec City).
I would guess that the head coach and coaching staff of the U.S. Team will be named some time in 2009, maybe during the NHL season or just after the 2009 World Championship and NHL playoffs.
In 2002 USA Hockey named a few players at a time to the Olympic Team. Will that happen again or will you name them all at once like you did in 2006?
I am guessing this will be an agreed upon format again with all teams using NHL players. My best guess would be in mid-December range, but again this will end up an agreed format with NHL, IIHF and NHLPA.
Are there planning sessions set up for the coming months? If so, any details as to when, where and who will be involved?
I work closely with our GM management team and we will get a budget in place first and then implement plans. I would suspect we would have an orientation camp again in late August or early September 2009 that would involve about 40 players, with selections based around the agreed upon format. We are finalizing hotel rooms and will get much more information from the USOC and VANOC over the next 24 months.
Will there be alternates like there were during the Olympics Torino?
No, it appears rosters will be set at 20 skaters and three goalies with no replacements allowed.
Will having the Olympics taking place closer to home affect the U.S. Team in any way?
It just makes the initial operations and logistics easier, and quite honestly the facilities have more space than Torino. There will be more family attending, but again Vancouver has much more and better hotel arrangements, which should make things better from an operational standpoint
Since the GM Place is an existing NHL rink, will they change the configuration to suit the Olympic sized rink? If not, will that impact the type of player the U.S. chooses (more grinders than skaters)?
The GM Place will be NHL-size ice. As for what role this will play in our decision-making process involving our team, I think in the end we will select the best players to make up the best team. You need different types of players to fill all roles, and we certainly feel we have the talent level across the board to field an excellent team in all capacities of the game.
You mentioned the GM management team. What role will David Poile, Brian Burke, Don Waddell and Ray Shero have in selecting this team?
I have been working closely with all of them with the World Championships, and at some point we will name a GM for the team. But even at that point we will count on the group’s knowledge of our player pool and their positions in the NHL to assess the talent pool. It is too early to say how the final players selections will be derived, a GM has to be in place and then I work with him to get the structure, people, information all in place for the final selection of players.
Have you had discussions about the next head coach? What will you be looking for in your head coach?
We haven’t had specific discussions about any possible coach. Obviously we will want a coach that we all feel can be successful. There are many factors that can go into the decision, such as past experience and success, knowledge of the players and knowledge of the Olympics. In the end, we will try to match our coaching staff as a whole with our players to put everyone in the best possible setting for success.
In 2006, the U.S. squad had three players with ties to the NTDP. What sort of impact do you think the NTDP will have on the makeup of the 2010 team?
There will definitely be more players who have played in the program because many are coming into the prime years of their career and just by pure numbers with more and more are entering the NHL each season. It has been this way in the past four World Championships and I am sure the Olympics will mirror that to a degree.
Will the 2010 Olympics represent a changing of the guard for the U.S. squad? Do you foresee young players like Phil Kessel, Patrick Kane and Zach Parise replacing veterans like Mike Modano, Bill Guerin and Doug Weight in Vancouver?
That’s a tough question to answer when the “old guard” still playing in the league, and still playing so well. Obviously some of the young rising stars will be in Vancouver, but I would never write off any of our veteran players who have served their country so well for so many years.
Want to place a bet on whether Chris Chelios is on the team or not?
He is just an amazing guy. I think he has set the standard for what being a player is all about. So to answer your question, I would never bet against Chris Chelios.
Any thoughts on the U.S. goaltending situation?
Obviously Rick DiPietro, Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas are currently playing the most and having success. John Grahame had a solid 2007 World Championship and we have some young guys starting their rise.
Will members of the gold-medal winning 2004 U.S. National Junior Team be ready to compete in Vancouver?
Definitely. I think you look down NHL rosters today and see the impact many of them are having. They are proven winners and I think it is safe to say there will be representatives from that team in Vancouver. Time will tell how many, but their impact in the NHL has been significant.
If so, how will that nucleus of U.S. players who have competed together in so many international events bode well for a gold-medal run?
We continue to get more and more continuity as the NTDP programs ages and many more players have played together in that program. It shows up at the World Championships, and I think it is safe to say Vancouver will probably feature even more NTDP alumni on an Olympic team. It is in part what the design and goal of the program was and is to this day.
According to the IIHF, the 2008 World Championship will determine nine of the 12 teams in the Olympic tournament. Will that change your approach in any way heading into the World Championship in Canada?
I don’t think it will have any affect on our selection at all. We’ll assemble the best team we can from the player pool available. Our talent pool gets deeper every year, so it will be an exciting team for the 2008 World Championships.
Women’s Team Questions
What’s the timetable to announce the squad?
Will Mark Johnson coach the U.S. Women’s Olympic Team?
Will the women’s team be together for an extended time in a place like Lake Placid like they were prior to 2002 or will they only get together for shorter stints like they did in 2006?
Is the pre-Olympic tour set? How many games? Opponents? Arenas?
What role, if any, will Ben Smith play with the team?
The U.S. women’s squad won gold in 1998, silver in 2002 and bronze in 2006. What plans do you have to reverse that trend?
Are you banking on veterans like Potter and Ruggiero to return to form in time for 2010?
The 1998 Women’s Team paved the way for more girls to play hockey. Is it time we’ll see that impact our team for 2010?