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Colorado Avalanche right winger Mikko Rantanen (96) and defenseman Jack Johnson (3) battle for the puck during NHL hockey practice before Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals , on Friday, June 17, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/John Locher)

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Between two check presentations on the ice, Jack Johnson hit the books just as hard.

The 35-year-old Colorado Avalanche defenseman graduated from the University of Michigan this spring. Just part of a rewarding streak for Johnson, who after five teams and more than 1,000 NHL games finally reached the Stanley Cup Finals.

“Let’s see, this (diploma) takes me 18 years? Johnson cracked Saturday before Game 2 against Tampa Bay. “Most people are at least a doctor at this point.”

His diploma fulfilled a promise not only for himself, but also for Red Berenson, his coach at Michigan for two seasons (2005-07).

“I called him as soon as I (finished my degree),” said Johnson, who attended training camp with Colorado on a pro trial before signing a one-year contract with the team on October 10. thing for me.

“As a child, I grew up dreaming of playing college hockey in Michigan. I wanted to graduate there – the #1 ranked public school in the nation. So that meant a lot to me.”

Johnson said he trimmed his degree over the years by taking online classes in the spring when his team didn’t make the playoffs.

His hardest course?

“Statistics,” Johnson said. “Fingers in the nose.”

Here’s a stat he might like: He had 24 hits in eight games in the Colorado playoffs. That includes a hard knock on Lightning forward Brandon Hagel early in Game 1. Johnson was inserted into the roster for Game 4 of the St. Louis series.

“It’s incredibly special,” Johnson said of making the final. “You never know if you’re going to have the opportunity to play for it. We have worked so hard this year to get to this point where we now have an opportunity.

In March, Johnson played his 1,000th NHL game to become the 21st American-born defenseman to reach that mark.

HEALTHY HAGEL?

After being doubtful to play in Game 1 due to an undisclosed injury, Hagel said he is “all good” and 100% healthy now. That’s important for the Lightning given how well the spunky forward has settled in since joining Tampa Bay in a trade with Chicago before the deadline.

“We identified a role for him, and I think he’s been exceptional for us,” coach Jon Cooper said. “He’s just a burst of energy. I know he would like to score more. But like I told him, ‘You don’t have to. What you do for us in your energy, your forechecking ability, the way you skate and they keep having chances.

THEIR SCENE

Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors paved the way to the Stanley Cup Finals by winning their fourth NBA title in eight seasons.

The stage now belongs to Nathan MacKinnon, Nikita Kucherov and the rest of the Avalanche and Lightning.

“We’ve got two of the best teams in there,” Tampa Bay forward Corey Perry said. “Hockey is in good shape and on the rise. We are here today to put on a good show but also to (win the Cup). That’s all that really matters to us.

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AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.

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