Jim Johannson

Jim Johannson, the general manager of USA Hockey who helped put together an American Olympic team without NHL players, has died at the age of 53.

USA Hockey released a statement saying that Johannson died in his sleep early Sunday morning at his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

"We are beyond shocked and profoundly saddened," USA Hockey executive director Pat Kelleher said in the statement. "As accomplished as Jim was in hockey, he was the absolute best, most humble, kind and caring person you could ever hope to meet. His impact on our sport and more importantly the people and players in our sport have been immeasurable. Our condolences go out to his entire family, but especially to his loving wife Abby and their young daughter Ellie."

Johannson played college hockey at Wisconsin (1982-86), helping the Badgers win an NCAA title his freshman year. He played for the United States in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics. Tony Granato, one of Johannson's teammates on the 1988 team, is the coach of this year's U.S. Olympic team.

Granato tweeted Sunday that Johannson was "as loyal a friend as you could have" and "was the ultimate teammate."

Johannson was drafted by the Whalers in 1982 but didn't make it to the NHL, playing in the International Hockey League from 1987 to 1994.

He has been with USA Hockey since 2000 in various roles. During his tenure, the U.S. won 34 gold medals, 19 silver and 11 bronze. But this season was a different challenge, since NHL players would not be taking part in the Games for the first time since 1994. The Games in South Korea begin Feb. 9, with the U.S. facing Slovenia in their opener Feb. 14.

Johannson's work wasn't limited to competing internationally, however. While he has been with the organization, USA Hockey unveiled the American Development Model that gives a blueprint for growing U.S. hockey from the time kids put on skates.

Sabres coach Phil Housley, whom Johannson picked to lead the U.S. at the 2015 world juniors and won gold, said the longtime USA Hockey executive was one of the best leaders and "grew our game to new heights."

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman issued a statement in which he said: "In building the teams that achieved so much success for USA Hockey, Jim Johannson had a sharp eye for talent, a strong sense of chemistry and a relentless pursuit of excellence. The NHL family's respect for Jim's contributions to hockey, at all levels, is exceeded only by our shock and sorrow over his sudden passing."

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