This story originally appeared in Mile High Sports Magazine. Read the full digital edition.

Each month Mile High Sports Magazine sits down with an important figure in Colorado sports. For October, Doug Ottewill spoke with Avs defenseman Erik Johnson. Here’s the best of what Johnson had to say about his expectations for the 2017-18 season, and how the Avs can bounce back from a disappointing season in 2016-17.

Erik Johnson: We had a long, long offseason. The happiest I was in a long time was [the night before training camp]. You get plenty of months to reflect on what went wrong, get better in the gym and just get better all around.

Everybody has an escape from hockey. You know this is our job, and we’re lucky to do it, and we love doing it, but everyone has a thing away from your job that you really love. Some guys love to golf, some guys love to fish, some guys like to travel, go to concerts. I love horse racing and just horses in general. My dream is when I’m done playing to get a big plot of land in the middle of nowhere, have eight to 10 horses and breed them every year and sell the babies and have a little family business.

[Horse racing is] a lot of fun. I really enjoy it; I like to have my hands in all aspects of the game. I have three or four mares back in Kentucky that I breed to specific stallions every year and have the resulting foal. Sell the foal and rebreed the mare and sell the mare. So, away from the rink I’m trying to find some of the best equine flesh I can.

My top horse is named “Shane’s Girlfriend,” after my buddy’s son – kinda teasing him. She got hurt. We retired her.

Everyone had their worst year statistically of their careers last season. We lost Varly for almost the whole year, myself. We had zero secondary scoring, which means if our top players didn’t score we didn’t win or score.

The best thing is no one expects us to do anything so, you know, we have kind of an us against the world mentality and frankly it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, it just matters how we play.

After that really good year where we won the division, I think we came into the following year and thought we were better than we were. We got ahead of ourselves and got cocky.

Last year, new coach a month before camp. I don’t like to make excuses, but it was just one of those years you just kind of have to write off.

The other thing was all our top guys were at the World Cup last year – myself, Varly, Gabe, Nate, Dutchy, Carl Soderberg – we were all at the World Cup. So the top players aren’t at camp. What’s your identity? I mean, it’s still to be determined what our identity is going to be. It’s our responsibility to write our legacy here. It’s me, it’s Gabe, it’s Nate, it’s Tyson, it’s Varly, it’s these guys that decide how we want to be viewed.

When we finished last in 2012-13 and then we drafted Nate [MacKinnon], the next year we won the division. So, I mean, anything can happen.

You can never get too high, you can never get too low. You’re going to have the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows, and if you ride that wave it’s going to be an emotional roller coaster for you all year. I got down on myself way too easy when I was younger. I let games and mistakes stick with me. If I had a bad game or a bad shift, it would just stick with me for weeks. And now, if I make a bad play, I’m just like, “Who gives a shit? Let’s move on.” Forget about it and keep playing. I just let stuff roll off my shoulders a little easier now. I know I’m a good player and bad things are going to happen, good things are going to happen. You’ve just got to stay even-keel.

We don’t care what anyone thinks, because no one thinks we’re going to do anything and it’s a great position to be in. The underdog is a scary position to be in for other teams; you never know what the underdog’s going to do.

As you get older you learn about yourself. When I was 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, it was all about getting as strong as you can, as powerful as you can, as heavy as you can. I was up to 235, 240. Literally just massive, more football big. Then I came [to Colorado] and I just was like, “You know what? This is a skinny man’s game; it’s turning into a fast game.” So I completely revamped the way I did things. If you stay the same, you’re not going to get better because everyone else is constantly evolving. I needed to find an edge and what worked for me. I shed 15, 20 pounds, and I feel great. Now I’m at 220. You’ve got to be able to skate; if you can’t skate you’re screwed.

I’d say diet is 40 percent as important as training. If you’re trying to cut up and slim down, eating is just as important as how you train. It takes discipline because you can’t just go out the door and find a kale salad with chicken. You really have to do your work, especially in the way you travel; you really have to work hard to find the right things for you. It is an 11-month out of the year commitment. You can maybe take one month off, where you’re not doing anything, eat the way you want. But it’s a sacrifice and I love it.

I think we want to remember what last year felt like but not keep it with us. Everyone thinks we’re probably going to be last in the league, and like I mentioned, it doesn’t matter. Our expectation is, we’re the underdog. We’re going to surprise people.

If we get overlooked – I wouldn’t do it – we’re going to be a younger, faster, quicker team and I think we’re going to sneak up on some teams. Who knows what can happen, we won our division a couple of years ago.

I love the team. I love their discipline. And I just love being a hockey player. It’s a lot of fun. It’s going to be even better when we win in Denver.