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Cam Johnson makes return with plenty of dramatics

Western Michigan pulled its goalie to create a 6-on-3 advantage in a one-goal game with 19 seconds left.

After UND held on for a 4-3 win Friday night at Ralph Engelstad Arena, the teams had to be pulled apart by referees and Fighting Hawks coach Brad Berry.

The usual postgame handshake was scrapped.

Welcome back, Cam Johnson. So much for easing back into play without much drama.

Johnson, playing for the first time after missing eight games with an injury, stopped 18 shots.

"It's a bit of confidence for our defenseman," said UND forward Austin Poganski, who had two goals. "He's a wall and makes huge saves for us. His saves gave us momentum and he's a big plus to have in there. We expect him to be good for us throughout the season."

Johnson said he felt healthy the whole way against Western Michigan after playing for the first time since he was hurt in a pregame skate on Nov. 3.

"It feels unbelievable to be back," Johnson said. "It was a long month."

Johnson was complimentary of backup Peter Thome, who played exclusively during Johnson's absence. However, sitting out wasn't enjoyable.

"Miserable," Johnson said. "It was tough to sit there and watch. We won some big games, though, and the team responded well to the injuries we had."

Johnson didn't need to make any big saves in the final seconds as UND received gritty play on the boards from Rhett Gardner and Gabe Best, then Johnny Simonson won a key draw in the final couple of seconds to seal the win.

What was Johnson thinking when Western Michigan was swarming in the late moments?

"Get me the heck out of here," Johnson said. "It was tough there at the end. It shows the tenacity of our guys."

UND coach Brad Berry made the decision to play Johnson this week based on his play in practice. Johnson was a full practice participant this week after sitting out from time to time last week at practice.

"You could see the compete and fire ... it kills him to be out of the lineup," Berry said. "I thought he was good. He got beat with a couple of good shots early on, and I thought he settled in. He has ice in his veins, and he settles in."

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department since 2004. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

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