MacKinnon finally wins Cup with Avalanche after years of disappointment

“We made it!” Johnson screamed. “I love you!”

They lay there together, hugging amid the discarded sticks and gloves while their teammates celebrated behind the net. Finally, MacKinnon pulled Johnson to his feet and they hugged again. Johnson had hit his head, MacKinnon had cut his hand, and they had never felt better.

“I met him as a kid,” MacKinnon said. “I was 17 years old when I met him 10 years ago. We finished last together.”

At such moments, the whole journey flashes before your eyes.

MacKinnon was 8 or 9 years old when his father made a hockey card of him. On the back, MacKinnon wrote that one day he wanted to be drafted by the Avalanche and play with Joe Sakic. He had a poster of Sakic in his bedroom.

The Avalanche drafted MacKinnon #1 in the 2013 NHL Draft when Sakic was vice president of hockey operations, and the center won the Calder Trophy for NHL Rookie of the Year in 2013-14 at age 18. Johnson and Gabriel Landeskog were among his teammates at the time.

After losing the first round of the Western Conference in 2014, Colorado missed the Stanley Cup playoffs three straight years and finished last in the NHL in 2016-17 with 48 points. Johnson, Landeskog Mikko Rantanen and JT Compher were among MacKinnon’s teammates at the time.

The Avalanche lost in the first round in 2018 and then lost in the second round three years in a row. A different kind of emotion erupted after the last horn a year ago after they won the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s best regular season team but lost in six games to the Vegas Golden Knights.

“There’s always next year,” MacKinnon said at the time. “That’s all we’re talking about, I guess. I mean, I’m going into my ninth year next year and I didn’t win [bleep]so I’m definitely motivated.”

It’s finally next year now. No more waiting. The Avalanche went 16-4 in the playoffs, never fell behind in a series, had 10 comeback wins and defeated the two-time defending champion.

MacKinnon had 24 points (13 goals, 11 assists) in 20 games, including six points (two goals, four assists) in six games in the cup final. He had one goal, one assist, seven shots, two hits, two blocked shots and one Sunday takeaway while winning 65 percent of his faceoffs.

“You could tell how badly he wanted it,” said Sakic, now Avalanche’s general manager. “You heard his interview last year after we lost to Vegas and you saw how disappointed he was. He’s just an amazing person, a great hockey player. He wants to win so badly and I’m happy for him. Maybe now he can relax and enjoy the summer a bit.”

[RELATED: Stanley Cup Final coverage]

MacKinnon said past adversity has made the Avalanche stronger this year. It helped them in the second round when they failed to eliminate the St. Louis Blues in Game 5 at home and made it away in Game 6, and in the Cup final when the same scenario played out.

“This scar tissue builds up,” MacKinnon said. “It gives you that character. We wouldn’t have won it this year without those growing pains, so it feels great.”

MacKinnon was speechless after the team picture as the doors to the ice opened to media and family members.

“It’s honestly hard to describe,” MacKinnon told reporters on the ice. “The best part is just sharing it with your teammates and your brothers. I look forward to hugging my family. It’s amazing. Thanks, people. I’m just going to party, so you appreciate it.”

MacKinnon ran away, found his family and took a picture with the trophy. He then helped his father Graham pull it up.

“It was unreal,” Graham said. “I mean, that’s a dream come true.”

When asked if the mug was as heavy as he expected, Graham laughed.

“Heavier,” he said.

MacKinnon, now 26, felt his career peak right there.

“I just kind of get flashbacks from my whole childhood, my whole life,” he said. “It feels incredible.”

MacKinnon hails from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, the same hometown of Sydney Crosbythe No. 1 pick in the 2005 NHL Draft, winning the trophy with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, 2016 and 2017. MacKinnon and Crosby are friends and training partners.

When asked if Crosby would come to his cup party, MacKinnon said, “He better. I’ve been to two of his, so he owes me a party.”

The only problem, as Johnson can attest, is that MacKinnon might party too hard.

“I could get so fat [bleep] Right now I don’t know if we’re going back to back,” MacKinnon said. “But I’ll definitely enjoy it.”

Leave a Comment