More on North Dakota (CHN Team of the Week)

Posted by: Avash Kalra

Four of the first seven CHN ‘Teams of the Week’ this season have been NCHC squads (first Denver, then St. Cloud State, thenĀ Minnesota-Duluth, and now North Dakota). You can read the full story about North Dakota’s back-to-back shutouts of St. Cloud State here.

I spoke to UND goaltender Cam Johnson on Tuesday evening. Johnson returned to form with a 62-save performance during the weekend, and the NCHC Goaltender of the Week propelled North Dakota to its first sweep at St. Cloud since 1998.

The performances helped quell some of the anxiety surrounding the Fighting Hawks’ six game winless streak heading into the weekend, especially with the pressure of trying to meet the highest of standards set by the 2015-16 national champions.

“We have a way different team than last year,” said a candid Johnson. “The standard people hold us to, which is tough, is that they expect us to be as great as we were last year. I think we have a really good team this year, but we have a much different recipe.”

That’s indisputable. Last season’s team was fueled by a series of dramatic Frozen Four losses and was led by a dominant top line of Drake Caggiula, Nick Schmaltz, and Brock Boeser. Caggiula debuted for the Edmonton Oilers last week, while Schmaltz has played in all 21 Chicago Blackhawks games this season. That left Boeser — now a sophomore — behind, andĀ if this past weekend’s performance is any indication, players like Shane Gersich and Austin Poganski are helping shoulder the burden offensively.

Gersich, after a hat-trick on Friday, leads UND in scoring with 10 goals and 8 assists.

The last meeting between St. Cloud and North Dakota at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center was a 6-1 Huskies win last season — a game in which Johnson allowed three goals on 13 shots.

So the redemption, understandably, felt good.

“It felt unbelievable,” he said. “Especially because St. Cloud is a really quality opponent. They’re a team the last few years that we’ve had wars with. Obviously to get back-to-back shutouts, I don’t think that’s been done in their building, so that’s a pretty cool accomplishment. It was huge for our group.”
Indeed, after outscoring St. Cloud 7-0 over the course of the weekend, North Dakota became the first team to shut out the Huskies on consecutive nights in the history of the National Hockey Center, which opened in 1989.
In the big picture, though, the wins — to Johnson — were meaningful for what they represent for the Fighting Hawks going forward.
“It’s something that helps our group,” said the junior. “It fuels us to continue to get better and not get complacent. Day in and day out, it’s going to be a battle, and we’re going to see every team’s best every weekend.”

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