Nephew of Jim Johannson tightens the family’s bond by playing against NTDP

Sep 18, 2023

Johnny Johannson and the New Mexico Ice Wolves beat the NTDP in Saturday night’s NAHL Showcase finale. His uncle was a USA Hockey executive for nearly two decades.

New Mexico Ice Wolves defenseman Johnny Johannson, left, celebrates Saturday’s win over the NTDP with teammates during the NAHL Showcase on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023.

Rob Beer / The Rink Live



BLAINE, Minn. — Even though he wasn’t wearing a USA jersey on Saturday night, Johnny Johannson couldn’t help but soak in the fact his New Mexico Ice Wolves played — and defeated — the National Team Development Program at the NAHL Showcase.

The 5-foot-11, 175-pound defenseman from Minneapolis is among eight Minnesotans and two North Dakotans playing for the Albuquerque-based team. On Saturday, the Ice Wolves stormed back from an early two-goal deficit and won 7-3.

Johannson’s bond with the NTDP runs deep in the family’s veins.

His uncle, Jim “J.J.” Johhannson, was the assistant executive director of USA Hockey and was a catalyst behind the NTDP and its training program in Plymouth, Michigan.

New Mexico Ice Wolves defenseman Johnny Johannson (7) faces the NDTP during the NAHL Showcase on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023.

Rob Beer / The Rink Live

“You know, the stars aligned on this one,” Johnny Johannson said. “My uncle is not with us but I think it was his dream for someone in his family to play with or against the National Team Development Program because it meant so much to him.”

Jim Johannson spent 18 years with USA Hockey and helped form teams that won 64 medals in major competitions — slightly more than half being gold. He died unexpectedly in 2018, just weeks before his U.S. Olympic team played in Pyeongchang.

For Johnny, the chance to face the red, white and blue was something he looked forward to. A pregame phone call with his dad confirmed that Johnny was “all-in, 100%” to play this game.

Having traveled to the World Juniors with J.J., his father, John, said Johnny understands how special it is to see the “USA” stitched on the front of the jersey.

Just not for long, Johnny said.

“When you went out there, you’ve got to in your mind, remove that logo from their chest,” he said. ”They’re not the development team, they’re the team we’re playing tonight. Once we did that, we took over and never looked back.”

He loved every minute of it. He said his goal when he stepped on the ice was to play physical, even if that meant Carter Amico, the 6-foot-5 towering defenseman for the NTDP, blew him up against the boards early on.

New Mexico Ice Wolves defenseman Johnny Johannson (7) falls to the ice after a heavy check from NTDP’s Cater Amico (57) during their NAHL Showcase game on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023.

Rob Beer / The Rink Live

“Fun, yeah, oh yeah,” Johnny said of the play that drew “oohs and ahhs” from the crowd. “Sometimes you’ve got to take a hit to make a play … Sometimes I was making dumps and taking a hit because of it.”

New Mexico coach Phil Fox said the moment wasn’t too big for Johannson, who is still trying to earn regular shifts with the Ice Wolves.

“I saw confidence in him,” Fox said. “He hasn’t been in the lineup consistently yet. Tonight was a big game for him, and we wanted to give him the opportunity.”

New Mexico Ice Wolves defenseman Johnny Johannson (7) shakes hands with Carter Amico of the NTDP after the game at NAHL Showcase on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023.

Rob Beer / The Rink Live

After playing at St. Thomas Academy in Minnesota, Johnny Johannson played at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. He posted seven points in 28 games before joining a 19U team in a fall league.

As John said, he’s thankful for the opportunity to play junior hockey. And whether it leads to playing at Wisconsin like his father and uncle have done, or the Olympics, like J.J. had done, the choice is all in Johnny’s hands as to how far he can go.

“He’s got his own path, He’s got skill, you know, a lot of kids have skill, you gotta have the grit,” John Johannson said of his son. “I think he can do it. It’s up to him, right? The good thing about when you get to the juniors, the parents are gone. You’re out and it’s how bad do the kids want it? So it’s their choice now.”

It’s that development that Johnny understands and what his uncle meant to USA Hockey.

“His legacy — what he wanted to pass on — is USA Hockey is all about the development of the player,” he said. “Winning is important, too, but once you lose development, you lose the essence of USA Hockey and that was his thing.”

For now, the Minnesota kid playing in New Mexico is enjoying his new environment.

“There’s a couple of perks, “Johnannson said. “You get to wear your sandals to the rink all season and you get to go golfing too. There’s plenty of things to do down there so you’re not your mind’s not constantly stuck on hockey.”

New Mexico Ice Wolves defenseman Johnny Johannson (7) skates after the puck during the NAHL Showcase on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023.