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Erik “Condor” Johnson comes home for hockey and a night of appreciation

The Condor returns home to Denver, but this time, he’s a defenseman for the Buffalo Sabres.

Colorado Avalanche Victory Parade & Rally Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Colorado Avalanche and the Buffalo Sabres are slated to face off at Ball Arena tomorrow night, but it won't be your run-of-the-mill interconference contest. This one will be special as fans at Ball Arena welcome the return of Avalanche great and Stanley Cup Champion Erik Johnson.

EJ was the longest-tenured Colorado sports figure before he took a deal on the open market and packed his bags for Buffalo. His departure likely weighed heavy on his heart as he'd been vocal and honest about how close he was with his former Avalanche teammates. Just look at his heartfelt statement after the deal was finalized.

Jackie Kay put it best on this week's Mile High Hockey Lab episode when she said Condor will be remembered most as an Avalanche for "the relationships he had."

He's been open about his respect and devotion to teammates and organization. That passion for the team showed itself over the years in different ways. It came through when he spoke after Matt Duchene's infamous mid-game trade. "We all wanna play for this team and win in Denver... Now we have the group in the room that will all be pulling the rope in the same direction."

We saw what it meant to the team when he returned to the roster after two straight seasons dealing with injury, and ultimately, it all led to him hoisting the cup alongside Nathan MacKinnon, Gabe Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, and JT Compher. Those guys wanted to win in Denver, even at rock bottom in 2017.

It's safe to say that Avalanche fans are grateful and proud of Johnson and his imprint on their beloved franchise. EJ was there through the highs and lows of Colorado's current era. He suffered through the 48-point season and persevered during the glorious cup run in 2022. Who could forget his hand in the goal-ending Colorado's second-round curse? With little time remaining, EJ broke in and sent a pass off the boards that Darren Helm slapped home. Chaos ensued, and the Avs advanced.

He skated the empty rink long after everyone was gone and celebrated like a true champion in 2022. At that moment, we all had a feeling that Erik Johnson's time in Denver would soon end, whether by way of retirement or the free market. I am happy that Erik Johnson is still a big-league player, especially for this one night in December. A night where he'll return to his hockey home and be anointed as a loyal and dedicated champion of the Colorado Avalanche organization.