USA Hockey's biggest names put on show in honor Jim Johannson's memory

By Nolan Bianchi
Special to The Detroit News
Dylan Larkin (71) of the Detroit Red Wings (Team Blue) and from Waterford Township shares a laugh on the bench with Kyle Connor (81) of the Winnipeg Jets (Team Blue) and from Shelby Township  in the second period during a charity game in honor of former assistant executive director of USA Hockey Jim Johannson at USA Arena in Plymouth. Team Blue defeated Team White 14-9.

Plymouth — The biggest names in USA Hockey gathered Sunday at USA Hockey Arena for the Stars and Stripes Showdown, a charity event to honor the late USA Hockey executive assistant Jim Johannson, who died at the age of 53 in January. 

The game, spearheaded by Red Wings star Dylan Larkin, benefited the Jim Johannson Legacy Fund of the USA Hockey Foundation and the Ellie Johannson College Fund. Johannson had a major hand in the growth of USA Hockey and formed special relationships with every player that came through the organization.

"To see all these players out there and them giving back to the sport, giving back to the Johannson family, it's a spectacular day for USA Hockey and for hockey in our country," executive director of USA Hockey Pat Kelleher said. "That's what made me smile today."

More:Larkin, 'star-studded' lineup to honor Johannson in Stars & Stripes Showdown

The game featured 12 Michigan natives including Chicago Blackhawks forward Alex DeBrincat (Farmington Hills) and Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba (Rochester). Perennial NHL All-Stars Auston Matthews (Maple Leafs), Patrick Kane (Blackhawks) and Zach Parise (Wild) also played.

Larkin was accompanied by Red Wings Jimmy Howard, Luke Glendening, Justin Abdelkader and prospect Jake Chelios, son of Detroit legend Chris Chelios.

Larkin said he was happy to be the one to help recruit the biggest names in the sport in honor of the late Johannson.

"As it got going, having Auston and Patrick Kane here is huge, Seth Jones, these guys flying in on their own expense, I can't thank them enough for coming in," Larkin said. "It really does speak to who JJ was."

Kane captained Team Blue and Matthews Team White; they joined Johannson's 2-year old daughter Ellie, wife Abby, father Ken, brother John and sister Judy for the ceremonial puck drop before the game following an emotional video tribute that Larkin said was a surreal experience.

"It's a huge hole in a lot of people's lives. All I could think about is, 'There's one person missing,'" Larkin said. "(Johannson would) be real proud if he knew what was going on today."

Kane, Matthews, Howard and Larkin signed autographs for fans postgame. 

Of the 39 players in the Stars and Stripes showdown, 21 were first round draft picks, which was a testament to Johannson’s impact on USA hockey, Red Wings and USA Hockey coach Jeff Blashill said. 

The sold-out crowd included those from several different NHL cities who were treated to a razzle-dazzle style of play in the no-contact scrimmage, resulting in a plethora of what fans came to see: stunning toe-drags, masterful puck movement, and, of course, scoring. Team Blue won 14-9.

Parise said he was excited to see the wide range of jerseys in the crowd.

"It was awesome to see. When you get the importance of the game, the significance of the game... you don't get that group on the ice very often together," Parise said. "You get to see them all in one rink, to me, that would have been a pretty big draw."

The biggest ovation of the day came in the second period when Larkin received a penalty shot after being hooked on a breakaway. He faked a slap shot before putting the moves on Alex Nedeljkovic and beat the Hurricanes prospect blocker-side. Larkin scored again in the third on a pass from Kane.

Abdelkader scored on Howard five-hole after picking off a pass in the neutral zone and going in all alone on his Red Wings teammate. Glendening also scored. 

Howard, who knew Johannson for 17 years before his death, said that the former executive's impact was felt by every member of the USA Hockey community.

"As soon as (Larkin) said he was putting it together, it was, 'Absolutely. I'd love to do this," Howard added.

Fans in attendance had the opportunity to bid on USA Hockey memorabilia that included Larkin's game-worn jersey, a signed photo of Jim Harbaugh and an autographed Bob Probert jersey. 

Before the game, coaches Jeff Blashill (Red Wings), Tony Granato (Wisconsin), John Hynes (Devils) and David Quinn (Rangers) signed autographs in the concourse. 

Players wore special edition jerseys with the initials of Johannson, “JJ”, replacing the “USA” type on the organization’s crest.

Fans in Red Wings country had a little fun at the expense of Kane during player introductions, raining boos on the former Conn Smythe and Hart Trophy winner as his name was announced.

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer