Apologies and respect to all Detroit Red Wings fans reading this who still harbor resentment from the best damn NHL rivalry known to mankind. I understand. Just skip the first two paragraphs if it preserves sanity.
The Colorado Avalanche have been on a steady ascension since Jared Bednar was named head coach in 2016. And this year, after bulldozing Norris Trophy finalist Roman Yosi and the Nashville Predators in the first round; downing a resilient St. Louis Blues team in the waning seconds of a series-clinching Game 6; sweeping Connor McDavid and the prolific Edmonton Oilers in a series that saw an average of 8.75 goals-per-game; defeating the evil empire and back-to-back defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning, Bednar and the Avalanche have reached the summit and are the 2022 Stanley Cup Champions.
While the stars (Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri) were great, three Wolverines were shuffled among the winners in varying degrees of usage.
Forward Andrew Cogliano (UM: 2005-07)
An NHL ironman, Andrew Cogliano once played in 850 consecutive NHL games before being forced out of action due to a suspension. This streak is all the more impressive given Cogliano’s physical style of play, and attractive to teams in need of forward depth.
Once Cogliano was made available at the March deadline by the reeling San Jose Sharks, Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic wasted no time acquiring the savvy veteran.
While Cogliano’s name won’t take up an entire stat sheet, his defensive back-check efforts and intensity were integral to Colorado’s penalty-kill, especially against the potent Lightning. Despite being limited with a hand injury for most of the playoffs, Cogliano gritted through and chipped in three of his six playoff points in the Stanley Cup Final to help secure a Colorado victory.
Cogliano will draw interest from any potential Cup contender this off-season for a short-term deal and one more push at another Cup. To quote Tom Brady when asked what his favorite championship was: “The next one.”
Forward JT Compher (UM: 2013-16)
Despite being drafted by the Buffalo Sabres, JT Compher has played his entire career with the Avalanche. During his time, Compher has experienced his share of ups and downs with the organization due to injuries or Covid-19 interruptions.
However, 2021 saw Compher posted career highs in goals (18) and points (33). And in the postseason — despite primarily bouncing between the third and fourth lines — Compher tallied eight points and five goals en route to the Cup.
Compher has one year left on his contract and with his key reserve production, an extension could be in his future. But if Sakic decides to move on, at least Compher etched his name beforehand.
Defenseman Jack Johnson (UM: 2005-07)
Jack Johnson has been in the NHL since the George W. Bush administration and has constantly been on the precipice of greatness. Johnson was drafted third overall in 2005 by the Carolina Hurricanes and despite his high selection, Johnson joined Cogliano and attended Michigan to continue to develop his skills for the professional level.
A wise decision, except for the fact the Hurricanes went on a crazy run and won the Stanley Cup that same year.
Later in his career — now with the Los Angeles Kings — Johnson was traded in Feb. 2012 to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Despite being the No. 8 seed in the subsequent NHL Playoffs, the Kings went on to capture their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Johnson bounced around to the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers later in his career and only made the Avalanche after successfully completing a Professional Tryout (PTO) with the team in September.
Despite making the league minimum and being the oldest player on the roster, 2021 was a banner year for Johnson for several reasons. Not only did he appear in 74 games (including his 1,000th career NHL game) and hoist his first Cup, he also finally graduated from Michigan with his degree in General Studies.
Retirement seems imminent and there is no better place for Johnson to go out.
A trade deadline acquisition, Avalanche lifer, and veteran journeyman have all had one thing in common: Michigan. Now they have two: Stanley Cup champions.