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Casey Johnson's first-career goal lifts UND in overtime

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- One thing went through Brad Berry's mind when Alaska Anchorage tied the game 2-2 late Saturday in the third period. "Groundhog's Day," the UND coach said. Another night, another lopsided shot total with not much to show for i...

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- One thing went through Brad Berry’s mind when Alaska Anchorage tied the game 2-2 late Saturday in the third period.

“Groundhog’s Day,” the UND coach said.

Another night, another lopsided shot total with not much to show for it, another squandered third-period lead and another overtime on the way.

But just like the 1993 movie referenced by Berry, in which Bill Murray repeats the same day until he gets it right, UND also found the right conclusion to its trip to Alaska.

The Grand Forks Central graduate and UND sophomore defenseman rifled a wrist shot past Anchorage goalie Olivier Mantha’s glove for a timely first-career goal to lift the Fighting Hawks to a 3-2 overtime victory in Sullivan Arena.

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GAME WINNER! Casey Johnson nets HIS first career goal to win it for @UNDmhockey, 3-2, over Alaska Anchorage! pic.twitter.com/LVEMCGEUzQ - UND Insider (@undinsider) October 8, 2017

The victory allowed UND to head home with a win to go along with Friday’s tie -- a deserved result considering the Fighting Hawks outshot the Seawolves 78-32 on opening weekend of the regular season.

On the winning goal, sophomore forward Cole Smith, who didn’t play Friday night, curled with the puck on the left side of the offensive zone to stall as his teammates changed lines.

“I made eye contact with Johns and I saw him breaking backdoor,” Smith said. “I just kind of laid it out there for him and he did the rest.”

Johnson hauled in the pass at the top of the right circle, walked a couple of steps and buried his first goal since the United States Hockey League playoffs during the 2015-16 season. His teammates mobbed him in the corner.

“I was the first one to him and his eyes were wider than I’ve ever seen someone’s eyes,” Smith said. “It was awesome.”

Johnson, still smiling 10 minutes later, said: “I saw the opening and threw it on net. Luckily, it went in.”

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Berry said: “You can tell Casey’s playing with confidence. I thought he took a step this weekend.”

For the second-straight night, Mantha was sensational in net, holding the Seawolves in a game they were largely being outplayed. He made a jaw-dropping save in the first period, diving from right to left and catching a Joel Janatuinen backdoor shot out of mid-air to keep it 0-0.

Two of the three goalies he allowed on the night were when UND had an extra man on the ice.

Freshman defenseman Matt Kiersted scored his first-career goal at 12:18 of the second period with six attackers on the ice during a delayed penalty. Kiersted slammed home a rebound of a Rhett Gardner shot.

Freshman forward Collin Adams followed that up by sniping a wrist shot high blocker during the ensuing power play.

It appeared like that would be enough to beat a Seawolves team that was playing without two of its top-line forwards.

Senior captain and centerman Matt Anholt was injured Friday night during the first period and never returned, while starting right winger Austin Azurdia was thrown out of the game for a checking from behind major just 20 seconds into Saturday night’s contest.

But, once again, Anchorage rallied.

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Jeremiah Luedtke got behind Johnson for a breakaway goal late in the second period and Nicholas Erb-Ekholm took advantage of sloppy play in all three zones by UND to tie it with 8:37 to go.

“These past two games showed a lot of flashes of what we saw last year -- dominating a team, then all of the sudden, we can’t catch a bounce and they come down and score,” said UND goalie Cam Johnson, who had 14 saves. “I liked our resilient our group was. We had our backs against the wall when they came back and tied it up. But we didn’t quit. We kept playing the right way.”

Johnson, who had no goals and three assists all of last season, tallied two points Saturday and will head to next weekend’s home series against St. Lawrence as the team’s leading scorer.

The winning goal was a relief to his team.

“There’s always a (question) in your mind with a new group how they will respond,” Berry said. “They responded fine.”

UND may be relieved it won’t have to see Mantha again this season. The Seawolves netminder stopped 74 of 78 shots on the weekend.

“He’s a good goalie,” Kiersted said. “I told him that in the handshake line. I’ve never seen anything like that. Some of the saves he was making were incredible.”

But Johnson’s goal gave UND enough offense to grab a victory in Alaska.

“I was fired up,” goalie Cam Johnson said. “I was thinking, ‘Not again. Not this again.’ But fortunately, Smitty made a nice play and Casey was able to finish that. It’s always nice to see those guys, who don’t get the credit a lot of time, finish the game for us there. It’s nice to see them get the credit they deserve.”

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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