MANKATO, Minn. — Minnesota goalie Justin Johnson has spent most of this year looking to give head coach Don Lucia some confidence. He played nearly well enough Friday to give the team a goalie controversy.
Johnson stopped 39 of 40 shots to pick up a win in his first action since losing to Alaska-Anchorage on October 16. Kris Chucko gave Johnson all the support he needed by netting two goals, as the Gophers (10-5-1 WCHA, 18-7-0 overall) defeated Minnesota State 2-1.
“He gave us the kind of game that I expected him to give,” Lucia said. “He played great. He played wonderful. And that’s what you have to have. When you go on the road in this league, your goalie’s gotta play well if you’re going to win.”
Lucia said he decided to start Johnson after Friday’s 9-6 win in which goalie Kellen Briggs allowed six goals on 31 shots. Lucia felt Briggs needed a rest, and he told Johnson the news right after the Friday night victory.
Johnson prepared for the game by watching his footage of his first collegiate game and his performance in the 2003 WCHA Final Five championship game.
“That was one of my main goals this year — to let them know that, hey, I’m here, and you can use me,” Johnson said.
“He was outstanding tonight,” Lucia said. “In my mind, he was player of the game and helped us win a very important game on the road. But that’s the kind of kid he is. As a senior, you expect that.”
Johnson saw action early on, including a shorthanded breakaway for MSU (5-12-1 WCHA, 8-13-3 overall) in the first three minutes. But Johnson stopped Adam Gerlach’s chance all alone.
“If that had gone the other way, who knows what would have happened,” Johnson said. “It was good to get me in it right away.”
Despite being shorthanded four times in the first period, the Mavericks played inspired hockey and took a 1-0 lead after the first period in front of 4,602.
With two players in the box for each team, rare three-on-three action was played for 1:10. MSU took advantage of the big ice as defenseman Kyle Peto trailed on the play to score the goal.
Peto came off the bench, received a pass from the left side of the ice, and stopped short in the right faceoff circle. The sophomore beat Johnson at the near-side post at 14:31 of the period.
Goalie Jon Volp was equally important for the Mavericks in the first. Volp robbed Minnesota forward Jerrid Reinholz’s breakaway with a kick save late in the period. The senior netminder stopped all 13 shots he faced in the first 20 minutes of play.
But Minnesota’s Chucko dominated play in the second to give his squad a 2-1 lead.
Early in the period, Peto turned the puck over in the Maverick zone to Gopher forward Ryan Potulny. Potulny drove to the net and dished the puck to Chucko. From the left side of the net, Chucko beat Volp high to tie the game at 5:26 of the period.
At 15:57, the freshman struck again to give the Gophers the lead. Chucko took a shot from the slot that Volp stopped with a kick save. However, Chucko followed his rebound to the net and slid the puck under Volp for his seventh goal of the season.
“He made a couple of plays. Some of our guys that were really good last night didn’t have the same legs that they did,” Lucia said.
Although he’s only in his first year of collegiate play, Chucko is already gaining a reputation as a Maverick killer. The forward has four goals, including two game-winning goals, and one assist in four games against MSU.
“I think it’s just coincidence,” Chucko said. “I just go out and play, and so far it’s happened to be good.”
The Mavericks outshot Minnesota 40 to 32 in the game, including a 14-9 advantage in the third period. But Johnson stayed strong in net.
Six minutes into the final period, MSU leading scorer David Backes hit the right post off a faceoff win.
On a MSU power play later in the period, junior Jeff Marler’s chance all alone in the slot was stuffed by Johnson.
Then, with 2:45 left in the game, freshman Austin Sutter took a shot in front as he was falling to the ice. But Johnson was able to slide over and make the stop.
“He made some big-time saves, especially in the last four or five minutes,” Lucia said. “They were swarming all around the net, but he looked pretty calm in there.”
The defensive contest was a big difference from the offensive onslaught the night before.
“I think both teams got read the riot act as far as defense went last night,” Chucko said. “Not very often do you see 15 goals in a game, and it’s fun to play in. But realistically, you can’t do that every night.”
For MSU, which has one win in its last nine games, the loss was just another time a goalie has out performed its forwards.
“When you get 40 shots on net, to only score one goal, that shouldn’t happen,” Maverick coach Troy Jutting said. “And it’s happened to us four or five times this year. That’s the tough part about it right now.”
“I think he (Johnson) played good, but we’ve gotta find a way to get it by him. I thought we played an excellent hockey game tonight. I don’t know that we can play a whole bunch better than we did tonight, to be honest. I thought we played very good, and just didn’t score.”
The Mavericks will attempt to right things on the road next weekend against Alaska-Anchorage. Minnesota will head home to host Michigan Tech.