DENVER- Although he is three wins away from winning the first Stanley Cup of his career, Jack Johnson has already fulfilled a dream this spring.
More than 17 years after setting foot on the University of Michigan campus, the Colorado Avalanche defenseman graduated in general studies.
“It was really important to me, I wanted to be able to get it,” said Johnson, who, at the age of 35, is in his 16th season in the NHL. “When I was young, I dreamed of playing college hockey in Michigan. I wanted to graduate from this university, which is ranked first in the country among public institutions. It meant a lot to me. I made a promise to Red Berenson when I left that I was going to finish my studies. I called him as soon as it was done. »
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Berenson, the legendary Michigan Wolverines coach, is now retired at the age of 82. He said he got the call from Johnson a few weeks ago.
“He knows how proud I was of him as a player, and to see him keep his promise after so many years says a lot about the youngster, his integrity and his dedication,” Berenson said in an interview. telephone, Saturday. “He told me that getting his diploma gave him more satisfaction than anything he had done on the ice as a player. I’m happy for him, and I think that’s going to set a good example for a lot of other guys who haven’t completed their academic journey, who said they would, but didn’t. Jack made sure that didn’t happen. »
Johnson will pursue his other dream on Saturday as the Avalanche play Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals at home to the Tampa Bay Lightning (8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, CBC, SN, TVAS).
Denver’s team leads the series 1-0 with a 4-3 overtime win.
Johnson made his NHL debut at the age of 20, at the end of the 2006-07 season with the Los Angeles Kings after spending two seasons with the Wolverines. He has played 1,024 games, and Saturday’s duel will be his 39th playoff game. It’s the first time he’s been in the final.
“It’s really special,” Johnson said. You never know if you’ll ever get the chance to play for the Cup. We have worked so hard this year to reach the final, and we are there now. You never know if you will come back to the final one day. It was a long time before I got there. »
The wait was even longer to graduate, but the defender said he was always diligent when it came to passing a course.
“During the seasons when I didn’t have the chance to participate in the playoffs, I returned (to university) for a spring session, he explained. I also took advantage of the pandemic to take online courses that normally would only have been given on campus. And I finally graduated this spring. »
Her most difficult subject?
” Statistics. From afar! »
Speaking of stats, the veteran is looking for his first point after nine games since the start of the playoffs, having amassed one goal and eight assists in 74 games this season.
Johnson was a regular for the Avalanche this year, but the arrival of reinforcements before the trade deadline relegated him to the role of seventh back. However, the injury suffered by Samuel Girard (broken sternum) in Game 3 of Round 2 against the St. Louis Blues opened the door for him.
“When I think back to the last few years, we had good teams, and when we came to the playoffs and we had an injury or two, it was guys called up from the American League who took over, underlined the coach- Avalanche chief Jared Bednar. They did a good job, but it’s not the same as bringing in a guy who’s played 1,100 games, a veteran who knows hockey. »
Johnson joked that it took him so long to graduate that some of the people he started studying with now have their doctorates. But he has a great excuse, that of having played with the Kings, the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as a short stint with the New York Rangers last year before joining the Avalanche this season.
“He’s a good veteran,” said his partner on the blue line. Josh Manson. He’s been playing for so long that he knows how to be successful. »
On the ice and at school.
“If he does that, it’ll be a bonus,” Berenson said of winning the Stanley Cup. “Otherwise, we will all be proud of Jack’s career, and especially of having finished his studies. There aren’t many players in the Stanley Cup Finals who think about school. »