DENVER- Despite being three wins away from winning the first Stanley Cup of his career, Jack Johnson already fulfilled a dream this spring.
More than 17 years after stepping onto the University of Michigan campus, the Colorado Avalanche defender graduated with a degree in general studies.
“It was really important to me, I wanted to make it,” said Johnson, who, at 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 the first in the country among public institutions. It meant a lot to me. When I left, I promised Red Berenson that I would finish my studies. I called him as soon as I was done. »
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Berenson, the legendary coach of the Michigan Wolverines, is retired at age 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 seeing him keep his promise after so many years says a lot about the young man, his integrity and his dedication,” Berenson said in a telephone interview on Saturday. “He told me that getting his degree gave him more satisfaction than anything he’s done on the ice as a player. I’m happy for him, and I think this will 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 when Avalanche plays Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals at home to the Tampa Bay Lightning (8pm ET; ABC, ESPN+, CBC, SN, TVAS).
The Denver team leads the series 1-0 with a 4-3 overtime win.
Johnson made his NHL debut at age 20 at the end of the 2006–07 season with the Los Angeles Kings, after spending two seasons with the Wolverines. He 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 get a chance to play for the Cup. We worked hard this year to reach the final and we are there now. You never know if you’ll make it 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 get a chance to make the playoffs, I went back (to the university) for a spring session,” he explained. I also took advantage of the pandemic to take online courses that would normally only be taught on campus. And I finally graduated this spring. »
Your most difficult subject?
” Statistics. By far! »
Speaking of statistics, the veteran is looking for his first point in nine games since the start of the playoffs, having added one goal and eight assists in 74 games this season.
Johnson was a regular at Avalanche this year, but the arrival of reinforcements before the trade deadline has relegated him to the role of seventh fullback. However, the injury suffered by Samuel Girard (broken sternum) in Game 3 of Round 2 against St. Louis Blues opened the door for him.
“When I think back over the last few years, we’ve had good teams, and when we got to the playoffs and we had an injury or two, it was the American League call-ups that took over,” Avalanche head coach said. Jared Bednar. work, 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 doctorates. But he has a great excuse, having played with the Kings, Columbus Blue Jackets, Pittsburgh Penguins, plus a short stint with the New York Rangers last year before joining the Avalanche this season.
“He’s a good old-timer,” said his partner on the blue line. Josh Manson. He’s been playing for so long that he knows how to succeed. »
On ice and at school.
“If he does that, it will be a bonus,” Berenson said of winning the Stanley Cup. “Otherwise, we will all be proud of Jack’s career, and especially of having completed his studies. Not many players in Stanley Cup Finals think about school. »