Jack Johnson pursues a degree at Michigan when he's off the ice

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jackjohnsonshoots.jpgJack Johnson is a specimen of a defenseman, but sometimes his high-risk, high-reward style gives him a bit of a “shaggy dog” reputation. While he has some learning to do in his own end, he also acknowledges that he’d like to hit the books off the ice too. In a nice (and sadly rare) story, Johnson is working toward earning his degree at his former school, the University of Michigan. Ann Arbor.com has more.

Each summer, the fourth-year Los Angeles Kings defenseman returns to Ann Arbor, enrolls in summer school and continues to chip away at his general studies degree. Although he hasn’t experienced life as a full-time student for three years, Johnson relishes his time on campus.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Johnson said on Thursday. “If it was easy, everyone who left would do it. I’m not in a race to get it, but I know if I stop, it will be hard to start up again.

“I can’t play hockey forever, unfortunately. I will have the second half of my life ahead of me, and I want that degree.”

During the NHL season, Johnson, who is 23, takes classes online, using off-days to study and complete coursework. Technology, including video conferencing and Web tutorials, has made distance learning easier, but balancing school with an NHL career isn’t easy.

It’s funny that Johnson is maintaining his connection to his college hockey days and his coach Red Berenson because, not too long ago, a surprisingly candid story surfaced in which Kings GM Dean Lombardi discussed the young defenseman’s lack of structure with the Wolverines.

When people discuss the Kings’ troubles in landing Ilya Kovalchuk, Johnson is often cited alongside star Drew Doughty and rugged forward Wayne Simmonds as players Lombardi would hope to keep. My guess is that those wounds will heal up at some point, but you have to wonder if Johnson has any hard feelings toward the franchise.

Either way, it’s a nice story even if it’s a bit sad that it’s such a rare occurrence in hockey and all sports, really.

(H/T to Cassie from Raw Charge.)

Some tough decisions await the Blues

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Yet again, the St. Louis Blues failed to achieve their ultimate goal.

And boy does it hurt right now.

“We’re all hurting,” coach Ken Hitchcock said last night after getting eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

“You don’t want this to be our best opportunity. You want this to be a building block. In this game, in this era, in this cap world, you don’t know where you’re going to be a year from now.”

Indeed, GM Doug Armstrong has some tough decisions to make this offseason.

At the top of the list is whether to bring Hitchcock back. Yes, the Blues did better than 26 other teams, and yes, they finally got past the first round. Still, there are people who believe this will be it for the head coach, that a new voice could help. Overall, Hitchcock has done a great job in St. Louis. But then, so did Todd McLellan in San Jose. Sometimes, change can be good.

Then there are the unrestricted free agents. Both captain David Backes and winger Troy Brouwer need new contracts. The former is 32, the latter 30. The former had seven goals in the playoffs, the latter eight. How much money will they want? How much term? The second question might be the most important.

On the back end, it’s Kevin Shattenkirk that will garner the most attention. He’s signed through next season before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Just 27 years old, and considering the demand for what he does, he’ll be very expensive to keep. And with the emergence of Colton Parayko, trading Shattenkirk could probably be justified, especially if the return is good. A team like the Boston Bruins might be willing to pay up.

Right now, the pain is still fresh for the Blues.

“It’s so hard to win in the league right now,” said Hitchcock. “It’s so hard to win a series. So hard to just get in the playoffs. When you get this far, you get this close, you think you got the opportunity.”

The challenge for Armstrong will be to give his team another opportunity next season. And with the draft less than a month away, all these tough decisions will need to be made very soon.

Goals of the Week get tougher as Cup Final approaches

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The Stanley Cup Final is almost upon us and picking the very best Goals of the Week is a tough task. See how we did on this edition!

Just for Men: Mike Commodore

RALEIGH, NC - JUNE 14:  Mike Commodore #22 of the Carolina Hurricanes warms up before game five of the 2006 NHL Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers on June 14, 2006 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Maybe one would argue that time hasn’t been kind to the 2006 Stanley Cup-winning Carolina Hurricanes (at least compared to the pedigree of other winners), but Mike Commodore’s incredible red afro and beard rank as one of hockey’s most timeless combinations.

Seriously, just take a step back from your monitor* and bask in the splendor of that carrot-topped Commodore.

Even then-President George W. Bush remarked on Commodore’s bushy hair and beard (or its tragic absence) when the Canes visited the White House:

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for coming. Have a seat. It’s a pretty big deal for a guy that doesn’t know how to ice skate — (laughter) — to welcome the Carolina Hurricanes to the White House. We appreciate you coming. You know, I’m not sure what is prettier, the Stanley Cup, or Mike Commodore’s hair. (Laughter.) A little disappointed you got a haircut. (Laughter.) But, welcome.

Good stuff.

And it really is kind of disappointing any time you see Commodore relatively clean-shaven. It’s like Superman without a big “S” on his chest or Metallica with short hair or any number of not-quite-right sights.

* – If you’re doing the Rumsfeld-style “standing at your desk” thing then … kneel for a second maybe?

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

Stanley Cup
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There’s nothing better than a Game 7, especially when a spot in the Stanley Cup Final is up for grabs. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins will battle in a do-or-die game for the right to play the San Jose Sharks with Lord Stanley on the line. You can watch the game via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (8:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 7 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the Live Extra app, click here.

Here’s some reading material to get you ready for this one:

Penguins, Lightning prepare for ‘roller coaster’ Game 7

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal