Erik Johnson asked the same question many Avalanche fans asked this summer. Once you’ve lifted – and dented – the Stanley Cup, what the hell do you do for an encore?
“Honestly, I was thinking after our win, when some of the dust settled, and I was like, ‘How am I going to prepare to play this year? Media scrum at the Hilton Inverness in Englewood to commemorate the start of Colorado’s training camp. “I was just like, ‘How do you do that again?’
“And then, as the summer started to pick up again, I was 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 have opened camp as defending Stanley Cup champions, the culmination of a rebuild that began in earnest six seasons ago.
With the well-attended but immaculate Cup parked on a dais to their right, Avs veterans and coach Jared Bednar planted their respective flags for reporters regarding the trip ahead.
The message: Let’s climb that mountain again. Do you remember the madness of reaching the top? Well, if you still want it, you’ll have to bring it back twice as hard.
“No. 1, I think if you win, you remember the success of the end of the year,” Bednar pointed out. “And it’s easy to forget how hard it was to get there and all the sacrifices you’ve had to make as a team and how you have to come together to make it happen. It’s a reminder that I think we can give each other on a daily or weekly basis.
“It’s a long and tough road, and our guys are going to have to be ready to climb the mountain again and do all the right things, because we’re starting fresh here.
“And you know, it’s a bit of a different group. But there (are) a lot of guys who are back and in similar roles. … So we should be able to pick up where we left off in (that). But it will be a chore.
The climb is a little more difficult when each guy in the group tries to do this 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 remain intact. The same goes for the group of forwards led by Gabe Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, playoff hero Valeri Nichushkin and center Nathan MacKinnon, whose 8-year contract extension announced Tuesday only cements the franchise in the game. circle of contenders for the annual NHL Cup. And in the crosshairs of all the other wannabes.
“Yeah, I think every team is going to shoot us,” Toews said. “We have proven that we know how to win and do it now.
“We used this Vegas series a few years ago (as motivation). I think (our motivation now) is the desire to win again, how we felt what we feel – and that’s a really good feeling for sure. So being able to do it again is the goal now.
Another climb. One more grind. Johnson, who turns 35 next March, is looking forward to it.
“I didn’t know how I was going to feel after our win,” Johnson said. “But I’m so excited. I just want to start all over again.
“I mean, it was such a blast. Every guy’s dream in this locker room has come true. And the only way to do it (is) to do it again. I think we have a team that can do it again.