Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson had an opportunity to join teammates Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene playing in Sweden back in October. He chose instead to wait out the NHL lockout stateside and keep in shape near his parents’ place in Bloomington, MN.
“I thought it would be squared away by now,” Johnson admitted to Scott Burnside of ESPN.
Instead, Johnson is part of perhaps the highest level pick-up game in the world, joining other NHL stars three days a week at the University of Minnesota’s Mariucci Arena. There the players meet for an hour of workouts and drills with college coaches before a 45-minute competitive scrimmage that the group has gone so far as to include referees in to simulate a game as closely as possible.
“It’s probably one of the best skates in the NHL,” Johnson said.
Early in the lockout, the players, consisting mainly of Minnesota Wild teammates and other Minnesota natives from around the NHL, split into two sides randomly. The two sides have remained intact ever since, with the loser tasked with paying for the ice rental.
Johnson admits his team is more of an “energy” squad, pointing out that their opposition is “pretty stacked.”
Minnesota’s ample hunting opportunities lend an added appeal to Johnson’s native state. At the time of the conversation, the former no. 1 overall pick was set to take some time to hunt geese with fellow NHLer and Minnesota native Dustin Byfuglien.
“I don’t know what I would do if I was from a small town without a lot of guys,” Johnson said. “I think it helps that basically we’re a group of guys going through the same thing.”
Johnson is happy to have found a niche during the lockout, but let’s hope he’s back in Denver wearing burgundy and blue sooner rather than later.