There's no substitute for experience, and when it comes to playing in international competition Erik Johnson is wise beyond his 28 years. An alumnus of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program, the Bloomington, Minn., native has played more than 50 games in IIHF tournaments. On the eve of a must-win showdown against Canada at the World Cup of Hockey, Johnson talks about what it's going to take for Team USA to beat their North American rivals.
Your thoughts as you get ready for tomorrow's game?
As a group we knew that we needed to go through Canada at some point, and it's just a little bit earlier in the tournament than we'd like to play a must-win game. The reality is that's the situation we're in. It's such a short tournament that if you don't win your games early you put yourself in a tough spot. It makes the storyline more interesting as far as this being a game that we definitely have to win if we want to stay alive in this tournament.
What's the mood inside the locker room been like the past two days?
I think the mood is good. It's positive. As a group, I think we're pretty close and pretty tight. A lot of us know each other pretty well from whether it's the National Team Development Program or other international tournaments. I think it's an upbeat mood. I think we're relishing the underdog role being in Canada and kind of going into the hornet's nest tomorrow night.
What's it going to take to beat Canada in front of a loud, partisan crowd?
We have to score some goals. I think it's three games in a row in our last international tournaments where we haven't scored. Canada is a stingy team defensively, especially with (Carey) Price being healthy again. We have to find a way to put the puck in the back of the net is the biggest thing.
Is there a sense that this could be the last time this core group will be together?
A lot of us have played together through our early teen years, so we worked all those years to win those international tournaments as teenagers. You grow apart a little over the years playing in the NHL and then come back to these tournaments again. But I think a lot of guys on this team realize with the uncertainty of the Olympics in 2018 this could be some guys' last kick at the can. It's kind of weird that it could be some guys' last kick at the can. I'm 28 and have 10 years in the league. It goes by so fast, faster than you think. I'm not even one of the elder statesmen here, so there are other guys who want to really relish this moment because it could be the last time we get that opportunity to win one of these international tournaments.
Talk about putting added pressure on yourself.
There's a generation of kids and players looking up to us in the United States, just as we looked up to the guys that won the '96 World Cup. We're hoping to carry on that legacy for the next generation. We take a lot of responsibility and pride and we don't want to let fellow American hockey players down.
Your focus is obviously on playing Canada tomorrow, but in the back of your minds you have to thinking about getting ready for the upcoming NHL season. How will playing here at the World Cup help you once you return to the Colorado Avalanche training camp?
I definitely think that playing here will give us a leg up on our teammates. The pace is much higher here than at an NHL camp. That being said, everyone's focus is on what is here right now. Everyone wants to go back to their camp and do well and help their team during the season, but you can only focus on one thing at a time. I think I can speak for the whole team that our focus is just on the game on Tuesday and everything else is kind of just noise right now. We'll all be super excited to go back to our NHL clubs whenever that it. Hopefully it's not until in early October.