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Cam Johnson turns in shutout performance in win over Omaha

OMAHA, Neb.—Cam Johnson sat out the last two games.

The senior goalie, who backstopped UND to the 2016 NCAA national championship, played the backup role with rookie Peter Thome earning back-to-back starts.

But Johnson came back in on Saturday night and he delivered his best performance of the season.

Johnson turned in a 26-save shutout in UND's 3-0 win over Omaha in Baxter Arena, shutting down the nation's most prolific home offense.

Omaha hadn't lost at home since Dec. 9, and had scored 5, 5, 11, 4, 6, 7 and 6 goals in its last seven games in Baxter Arena, averaging more than six per game.

But that all changed Saturday night.

Shane Gersich scored in the second period, Johnny Simonson had a third-period goal and Rhett Gardner iced it with an empty-netter as UND salvaged a series split.

"It feels good," Johnson said. "I was probably playing with a little chip on my shoulder, but I thought the guys played well in front of me. I had to make a couple of tough saves. When they needed me, I was able to be there. I need to carry that mentality with me."

UND coach Brad Berry said: "He was spectacular tonight. He made some saves early—some hard saves. We got momentum off of what he did early in the game. I'm just proud of the way he bounced back. He had a great game tonight and I thought our guys responded."

Johnson stopped 10 shots in the first and 12 in the second, including several key saves when Omaha was on the power play. The Mavericks scored on their first three power-play chances in Friday's game, but they were blanked on four chances—including two four-on-threes.

"Cam did what Cam does," defenseman Colton Poolman said. "He responded. We need him back there. Obviously, he proved that he's a one-of-a-kind goalie. We definitely need him going forward. Thome played great last night, but Cammer showed why, right there, he's a national champion goalie. Great response by him."

As the buzzer sounded, Thome was the first player to give Johnson a big hug.

"Peter and I have a great relationship," Johnson said. "He's the guy who pushes me when I'm in net. When he's in net, I'm going to push him. We've got a great relationship, a good friendship. It makes it fun coming to the rink every day."

It was a key win for both the league standings and the national picture.

UND improved to 14-10-8 overall and 8-8-4 in National Collegiate Hockey Conference play, where the Fighting Hawks sit in a third-place tie with Minnesota Duluth. They're two points ahead of fifth-place Western Michigan.

The Fighting Hawks also moved up to No. 12 in the Pairwise Rankings, which are used to determine the 16-team NCAA tournament field in March.

"It's huge," Berry said. "You want the sweep on the road. We didn't get the one last night. But we got the split. Now, we have to concentrate on the last few regular-season games."

UND jumped to the lead for the second straight night when Poolman led a rush up the middle of the ice and tried to dangle around Omaha captain Joel Messner between the circles. Messner broke up the rush, but Gersich followed it up, picked up a loose puck and fired it past Evan Weninger's right pad at 8:10.

The Fighting Hawks added to the lead early in the third.

During a strong shift, a puck got back to defenseman Josh Rieger at the point. Rieger purposely hammered a shot wide to get a rebound off of the end wall and it went right to Simonson. The Grand Forks native's turnaround shot deflected off of the shoulder of Omaha goalie Evan Weninger and into the net.

The goal snapped an 18-game drought for Simonson dating back to his game-winner at Denver in November. It also marked the second-straight season that he scored in Omaha, where his older brother, Alex, played college hockey.

"I definitely get excited to play here, because when my brother was a freshman here, I lived in Lincoln, playing for the Stars," Simonson said. "I would come here and spend time, watching games. It's just familiar with me here and I get excited to play here."

The Mavericks fell to 15-14-1 overall and 8-12 in NCHC play and dropped to No. 13 in the Pairwise Rankings.

"Obviously, these games down the stretch are so huge, especially after a loss," Simonson said. "We pretty much said in the locker room that it's a must-win for us tonight and we played like it."

Notes: Rookie forward Collin Adams also re-entered the lineup for UND, which scratched sophomore forwards Zach Yon and Dixon Bowen. Sophomore forward Ludvig Hoff is at the 2018 Winter Olympics playing for his native Norway. He missed his fourth-straight game. Omaha played without forward Fredrik Olofsson, who was injured Friday night. Cole Pickup entered the lineup for him. Omaha also scratched defenseman Grant Gallo for Lawson McDonald.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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