Erik Johnson asked the same question a lot of Avalanche fans did this summer. Once you’ve lifted — and dented — the Stanley Cup, what the heck do you do for an encore?
“Honestly, I was thinking after we won, when some of the dust settled, and I was like, ‘How am I gonna get ready to play this year?’” Johnson, the Avs’ veteran defenseman, recalled with a laugh during a media scrum at the Hilton Inverness in Englewood held to commemorate the start of Colorado’s training camp. “I was just like, ‘How do you do this again?’
“And then as the summer started ramping back up, I was just like, ‘I’m so ready to start again.’ I really haven’t been more excited for a season in maybe forever.”
Get in line, EJ. Get in line.
For the first time in 21 years, the Avs open camp as the defending Stanley Cup champions, the crowning achievement of a rebuild that began in earnest six seasons ago.
With the Cup, well-traveled but pristine, stationed on a dais to their right, Avs veterans and coach Jared Bednar planted their respective flags for reporters regarding the journey to come.
The message: Let’s climb that mountain again. Remember what a blast getting to the top was? Well, if you want it again, you’ll have to bring it twice as hard.
“No. 1, I think if you win, you remember the success at the end of the year,” Bednar stressed. “And it’s easy to forget just how hard it was to get there and all the sacrifices you have to make as a team and how you have to come together in order to get there. That’s a reminder that I think we can give to one another on a daily basis or weekly basis.
“It’s a long, tough road, and our guys are gonna have to be willing to climb the mountain again and do all the right things, because we’re starting fresh here.
“And you know, it’s a little bit of a different group. But there (are) a lot of guys that are back and in similar roles. … So we should be able to pick up where we left off in (that). But it’ll be a grind.”
The ascent is a little tougher when every guy in the party tries to make that climb with a giant target on his back.
While the Avs lost key contributors in center Nazem Kadri (Calgary), winger Andre Burakovsky (Seattle) and goaltender Darcy Kuemper (Washington) to free agency, the core of defensemen such as Johnson, Devon Toews, Cale Makar, Bo Byram and Samuel Girard remains intact. And so does the cadre of forwards led by Gabe Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, postseason hero Valeri Nichushkin and center Nathan MacKinnon, whose 8-year contract extension announced Tuesday only cements the franchise within the NHL’s circle of annual Cup contenders. And within every other wanna-be’s crosshairs.
“Yeah, I think every team is gonna be gunning for us,” Toews said. “We’ve proven that we know how to win and get it done now.
“We’d used that Vegas series a few years ago (as motivation). I think (our motivation now) is the urge to win again, how we felt what it feels like — and it’s a pretty good feeling for sure. So to be able to do it again is the goal now.”
One more climb. One more grind. Johnson, who’ll turn 35 next March, can’t wait.
“I didn’t know how I was going to feel after we won,” Johnson said. “But I’m so excited. I just want to do it all over again.
“I mean, it was such a blast. Every guy that locker room’s dream came true. And the only way to top it (is) doing it again. I think we have a team that can do it again.”