Erik Johnson perseveres, hopes to fulfill Cup dream with Avalanche

Johnson said Hinote told him about winning the Stanley Cup as a rookie with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001 and thought, “Aw, that’s a no-brainer. I came here in my freshman year. We will be back. We’ll definitely do that again.”

“He never made it back, so I’m just trying to let these young people know now is the time,” Johnson said. “You have to seize this opportunity and make the most of it.”

The Avalanche are in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 2001, facing two-time defending champions Tampa Bay Lightning. Game 1 takes place on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN+, ABC, CBC, SN, TVAS) at the Ball Arena.

Johnson is in the cup final for the first time in his 14-year NHL career. The 34-year-old defenseman is the longest-serving member of the Avalanche, dating back to arriving from the Blues via Trade on February 19, 2011.

His journey exemplifies the power of perseverance and the desire to win.

“It’s really hard to get here,” Johnson said. “Not everyone gets a chance to play for the Stanley Cup, so from that point of view I’m just grateful and happy to be here. It takes a lot of work, a lot of timing and a lot of luck to get here.

“I’ve had many years here, some good, some bad, a lot of injuries. You know, when you go through some depths, you’re never sure what light will be at the end of the tunnel.

“Luckily I was able to persevere and see this team from worst to best and now hopefully end it with the Stanley Cup.”

Johnson has played for two general managers and three coaches in his 12 seasons at Colorado. He had more than 170 teammates.

The Avalanche have fallen to last place in the NHL, finishing second from bottom in 2012-13 and bottom in 2016-17. They rose to the top in the regular season, finishing third in 2019/20, first in 2020/21 and second this season.

They have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs six times. They lost twice in the first round. They lost three times in the second round.

[RELATED: Complete coverage of Stanley Cup Final]

Johnson has played 654 regular season and 42 playoff games for the Avalanche. He ranks first in regular-season (1,259) and playoffs (80) in team history in blocked shots. He is third in the regular season (1,148), fourth in the playoffs (111).

It has taken its toll. He had broken teeth and feet, broken kneecaps and torn knee ligaments, dislocated shoulders and dislocated fingers, high ankle sprains and concussions. He’s had surgery on each shoulder, two surgeries on a knee, two surgeries on his mouth.

After missing all but four regular season games last season, he wasn’t sure he would continue playing.

“I was just kind of like, ‘Do I really want to keep pushing my body through all of this, with all of what I’ve been through?’ ‘ Johnson said. “Fortunately I’ve been healthy this year, I haven’t been hurt and it’s just been a lot of fun to be out there. Being healthy helps a lot not having to worry about things so it was good.”

Johnson played 77 games in the regular season and has played in all of Colorado’s 14 games in the playoffs, still sacrificing his body. He led the Avalanche in blocked shots (136) and hits (165) in the regular season and is second in the playoffs in both blocked shots (22) and hits (54).

“It’s kind of in my DNA,” Johnson said. “I mean, if you can block a shot, you block it. If you meet someone, you will meet them. You don’t imagine being the franchise leader in blocked shots…”

He laughed.

“But sometimes the cards just fall like that,” he continued. “You don’t know how many chances you have to win and you just have to do everything you can.”

Johnson has evolved. The Blues drafted him #1 in the 2006 NHL Draft, and he was a #1 defenseman for the Avalanche for years. Over time he got used to less offense, more defense and fewer minutes. He doesn’t have to be “The Guy” anymore.

He has become a mentor to younger defenders Bowen Byram, Samuel Girard and Kal Makar. He takes them to dinner en route and jokes with them in the dressing room because he doesn’t want them to be intimidated by older players and believes that a comfortable, happy player is a productive player.

“He put a lot of work into it,” said the captain Gabriel Landeskog, the next oldest member of the Avalanche, who came to Colorado as a rookie in 2011-12. “He’s had bad luck with injuries in recent years. But he just put his head down and just kept working.

“He set an example and was a good guy for Cale and ‘Bo’ and ‘G’ and all these guys to lean on. Keeps it light in the dressing room which always helps at this time of year when it could get a little nerve wracking at times.

“So yes, I know it means a lot to him and he’s played great for us.”

A lot is an understatement.

“You know, if you could top that with a Stanley Cup where I started, that’s always a dream of yours,” Johnson said. “So hopefully we can do it.”

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