b<>GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Luke Johnson’s recently-discovered confidence was in full view Friday night.
The North Dakota freshman, when asked if he saw a hole through which to fire his impressive shallow angle shot for a second-period power-play goal, coolly played it off — “Yeah, I did …” before smiling and admitting, “No I didn’t.”
Skilled play or not, Johnson’s swagger and North Dakota’s consistency was more than enough as UND (8-7-2) breezed to a 4-1 victory over Northern Michigan (6-9-2) in front of 11,322 at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
UND’s fourth straight victory came in no small part to Johnson, whose recent move from center to right wing has coincided with a clear change in his comfort level.
“I think I just have more confidence,” Johnson said. “Obviously, my linemates [Rocco Grimaldi and Drake Caggiula] are two good players that know how to distribute the puck. I think confidence is the biggest thing.”
Johnson’s goal was really only part of an attack highlighted throughout by controlling shifts and consistent efforts from all four lines. A 3-0 deficit that Mark MacMillan, Johnson and Dillon Simpson had mounted through the game’s first 36:23 was enough to bury the Wildcats.
“All four lines, all three [defensive pairs] and the goalie played well, too,” said UND defenseman Paul LaDue. “We need that every night and we need to keep going.”
“They came out like we thought they would early,” said Wildcats’ coach Walt Kyle. “They came at us hard and they were able to get that first goal. I think they put some good shots on our goaltender.”
MacMillan received quite the early Christmas gift when he gathered a rebound from the left boards and saw Mathias Dahlstrom (26 saves) along the right post thinking the puck was covered. MacMillan took advantage of the wide-open net without hesitation at 4:10.
North Dakota pushed its lead further in the second period by striking quickly on two consecutive power plays. Johnson sniped his fourth goal of the season just 10 seconds into a Jake Baker penalty at 9:57 and Simpson feathered a point shot past Dahlstrom at 16:23 – eight seconds into a Reed Seckel penalty.
The Wildcats stuck to it and finally got their feet under them, but any hope of mounting a comeback in the third period was squelched by a disallowed goal.
After Darren Nowick banked in a goal off of Troy Stecher from behind the net at 7:46, the Wildcats had some wind in their sails.
Mitch Jones then thought he had cut the lead to one at 10:30 when his power-play point shot went in, but referees Todd Anderson and Brian Aaron ruled that Ryan Daugherty visually impaired Zane Gothberg (24 saves) from within the goal crease, waving off the goal after a thorough review.
And before Northern Michigan could respond, North Dakota did via a LaDue goal at 12:36 of the third.
Kyle said afterward he had no problem with the call on the no-goal.
“They can see the overhead [camera angle], I’m sure it’s legit,” he said. “I wouldn’t call that the turning point, but it was a real important point in the game for us.”
North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol was quite pleased with the win, one that showed progress for a team that was, until recently, in search of answers.
“To build the lead to 3-0 on the power play, we won a couple faceoffs,” explained Hakstol. “We made some plays off the faceoffs in the second period. And in the third period, after we had the good fortune of the disallowed goal, we did a good job killing that penalty. To our specialty teams, that was a key point.”
Johnson said the keys were confidence and energy.
“The guys had a lot more energy and our forwards did a good job of playing in their end, getting cycles down low and creating chances in their zone,” he said. “Overall, it was a good effort.”