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State of Hockey Ambassadors: Erik Johnson

by Ryan Stanzel / Minnesota Wild
In this series of interviews for, we sat down with those who have made a difference in the State of Hockey. These people have either been ambassadors to the sport in Minnesota or pioneers in making the game front and center in our state. Without them, and many like them, this simply could not be the State of Hockey.

Who was your hockey idol growing up?

Since the North Stars had left, growing up I watched the Gophers all the time instead of the NHL. I drifted towards Bryan Bonin and Mike Crowley. My favorite NHL player was Pavel Bure in Vancouver. What Minnesota players did you watch growing up? Mike Crowley was one of the most dominant college hockey players of his time. Most people in Minnesota didn’t follow the NHL but we followed the Gophers. They were a fun team to watch.

In your opinion, who is the best U.S. player of all time?

I’d have to say Keith Tkachuck, my teammate in St. Louis. There have been a lot of good players: Phil Housley, Mike Modano, Joe Mullen and Doug Weight. I couldn’t pick one guy. There are so many good players that had an effect on the league and kids growing up.

Who did you grow up playing with in Minnesota?

Peter Mueller, Kyle Okposo and I played on the same summer team since we were nine or 10, until we were 15 or 16. We had practices together in the summer and then we played against each other in the winter. We developed a pretty good bond. All our goals were to play in the NHL. Me and Peter are trying to establish ourselves, and Kyle is well on his way.

Do you still keep in touch with those guys?

I have talked to Kyle on the phone a few times. I send Peter a text every now and then. We live close to each other in the summer and we play golf and hang out. Most of the guys from that team and I are pretty good friends.

How hard was your decision to leave the Gophers?

It was obviously a really hard decision. Playing at Mariucci in front of the best fans in college hockey. At that rink in front of those type of fans, it was really fun. I just can’t get over how much we were supported by people in Minnesota. It was a tough decision, but I’m happy with it. I’m really happy in St. Louis.

Did you ever think about going the Canadian Juniors route?

I was drafted into the WHL when I was 14 or 15. They wanted me to come try out but I was pretty much going to go the college route the whole way, and I don’t regret it.

What was the adjustment like in going to developmental camp after being home?

It was a little bit of a shock. It was really good for me. I gained some independence. Obviously, I wouldn’t have done that with my mom and dad around. It forced me to grow up a little bit quicker than if my parents were around. It forced me to branch out and be more mature. I was a junior in high school then and it was a really good experience as a hockey player and as a person too.

What’s your favorite amateur hockey memory from Minnesota?

Peter Mueller and I won the 2001 or 2002 Peewee State Championship. We won the quarterfinal game 8-1, then 6-0 in the semifinal and the championship game we won 12-0. That year we went something like 54-1-1. We had a great team and it was a lot of fun. I’ll always remember it.

What did it feel like coming back to Xcel Energy Center?

I played there 10 or so times before so I was used to it. But it was a little different at that level. I was obviously a bit nervous, but it was a great time. And I’ll play two more there every season for the rest of my career.

Continue Reading:

Bob Breau | Commissioner, Minnesota Junior Hockey League

Doug Johnson | Editor, Let's Play Hockey

Doug Woog | Former Minnesota Gophers Head Coach

Bob Naegele, Jr. | Former Chairman, Minnesota Wild &
Norm Coleman | Former U.S. Senator and Mayor of Saint Paul

Laura Halldorson | Former Gopher's Women's Coach

Phil Housley | Former NHL Player and High School Coach

Lou Nanne | Former NHL Player, Coach and General Manager

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