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Phone A Friend

02/12/2018, 1:00pm EST
By Harry Thompson

Olympians Reach Out To Thank Those Who Paved The Way On Their Olympic Journey

The path to the Olympics is not traveled alone. Nobody gets here by themselves. It takes more than a village. For the members of the U.S. Men’s Team, it takes an entire hockey community of caring people who unselfishly gave up their time and themselves to help each of the 25 players get to where they are today.

Nobody knew that better than Jim Johannson, a two-time Olympian who has made those Olympic dreams come true for so many others.

Prior to the recent IIHF World Junior Championship, Johannson teamed up with U.S. National Junior Team head coach Bob Motzko to create a program designed to have each team member call at least one person – not a family member – to thank him or her for helping them get to where they are today. Then players had to share how those phone calls went with their teammates.                    

Brian Gionta was in Buffalo at the time and thought it would be a great way for this U.S. Olympic Team to follow suit.

“When I first heard of it at the World Juniors I was extremely excited about it and thought it was an awesome thing,” the U.S. Team captain said. “Not only does it help you reflect on those who have been a big part of your life and your career but it makes you reach out to those who have touched your life and show them how much they mean to you.”

U.S. players talked on Monday about who they called and how they thanked those who helped them get to where they are today.

Chad Billins | Marysville, Mich.

I called Billy Cirillo from the Little Caesars organization. When I played in Port Huron Hockey Association, I was never a triple A kid.  I was a little naïve to triple A hockey and he gave me the opportunity to play midget major to play for him and I learned so much. I called to thank him for giving me the opportunity to play for him. He said he was having a tough day and that my call made it much better. It was a little emotional for both of us. It was pretty special.

I actually called a lot of my coaches to thank them, including my college coach at Ferris State. The list could go on. There are a lot of people who influenced my career and he was one of the big ones.

Will Borgen | Moorhead, Minn.

I called Dennis Bushey from Moorhead Youth Hockey; he’s the manager and has played a big part in the lives of everybody there. He’s kind of a legend there. He always gives us ice time when we want it and he’s just a good guy to have at the rink. It’s pretty cool to share the stories and hear who called.

We’ve been sharing the stories a little bit in the locker room a couple guys at a time so it’s cool to hear the stories from my teammates.

John McCarthy | Boston

I reached out to a high school teammate of mine. His name is Pete Frates. He was a great baseball player at BC, and at age 27 he was diagnosed with ALS. I just told him that he inspires me every day. He was basically given a death sentence and he’s dealt with it through all the work that he’s done. He was the guy behind the Ice Bucket Challenge that raised so much money for ALS research. I just told him that I look up to him and he has inspired me to keep going.

Brian O’Neill | Yardley, Pa.

I actually called Ray Giroux, a former teammate at Yale. He was a defenseman who also played in Russia. I was going through a stressful first couple of years as a pro and was thinking about pursuing a different career path. He was in a similar position when he was my age and he gave me some really good advice. I wouldn’t have made my NHL debut and would never have played in Europe and I definitely wouldn’t be on the Olympic team if Ray wasn’t there to help me make some important decisions. He’s a big reason why I’m here.

Chad Kolarik | Abington, Pa.

I made the phone call to Jerry Domish. He was hard on me when I was younger but he made me into the player and person I am today. He also helped my family out by getting my mom a job within the Valley Forge Minutemen organization. It made it easier on us to afford the ice times and be able to get rides and things like that. So I called him to thank him and he was very appreciative of the call. He wanted to see if when Ryan and I were back in town if we could all get together once everything is over and settles down.

Bobby Butler | Marlborough, Mass.

I called my trainer back home, Jeff Oliver. I’ve known him since I started to work out when I was 12 years old. He was a big part of where I am today, maybe not so much from the hockey side but because he taught me what it would take to become an athlete. I don’t know if he ever watched me play hockey but he knew that it wouldn’t be just skill that would get me to the next level. It would be what I did off the ice. He kind of taught me what it would take by instilling in me good habits, such as sleep and nutrition. He was a big part of me playing in college and then playing in the pros. He’s a big part of where I’m at today. I also called my coach at the University of New Hampshire, Dick Umile. He’s retiring after this year so I called to thank him for turning me from a boy into a man and helping me become a pro hockey player.

Broc Little | Phoenix

I called Bill Troy. He’s an assistant coach at Cushing Academy, where I went to prep school. I came in there as probably the smallest guy on campus and had to work my way up to the varsity team. He’s a guy that supported me along the way and has supported me since then. I just wanted to thank him for all that he did for me. He’s still there to this day and I’m sure he’s still molding kids. It was a cool conversation.

Mark Arcobello | Milford, Conn.

I called my first American Hockey League coach, Todd Nelson who is with the Grand Rapids Griffins now. He was in Oklahoma City when I first started out. I told him that he gave me an opportunity in certain situations and playing with certain players that I probably didn’t deserve at the time. He put me on the ice a lot and he trusted in me at a time when I probably didn’t deserve it. I was opportunistic and was able to take advantage of that first introduction to pro hockey.

Brian Gionta | Rochester, N.Y.

I called my old Junior coach, Chris Hicks. He’s a such a great guy and a great mentor for me. He was very impressionable on me about doing things the right way. He set the path to my pro career and really made it what it is. I’m extremely grateful to have had him in my life.

Go to USAHockeyMagazine.com to read more conversations between members of the U.S. Men’s Olympic Team and those who made an impact on their lives and their hockey careers.

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2018 U.S. Men's Olympic Schedule

Date Opponent Round Time (Local/ET)/Result Venue Broadcast/Stream
Wed., Feb. 14 Slovenia Preliminary OTL, 2-3 Kwandong Hockey Centre NBCSN
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Fri., Feb. 16 Slovakia Preliminary W, 2-1 Gangneung Hockey Centre CNBC
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Sat., Feb. 17 Olympic Athletes From Russia Preliminary L, 0-4 Gangneung Hockey Centre NBCSN
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Tues., Feb. 20 Slovakia Qualification 12:10 p.m./10:10 p.m. (Feb. 19) Gangneung Hockey Centre NBCSN
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Wed., Feb 21 TBD Quarterfinals TBD TBD TBD
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Fri., Feb 23 TBD Semifinals TBD Gangneung Hockey Centre NBCSN
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Sat., Feb. 24 TBD Bronze-Medal Game 9:10 p.m./7:10 a.m. Gangneung Hockey Centre NBCSN
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Sun., Feb 25 TBD Gold-Medal Game 1:10 p.m./11:10 p.m. (Feb. 24) Gangneung Hockey Centre NBCSN
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