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Casey Johnson adjusting to new role as utility man

UND's Casey Johnson in action during November 25 match against Michigan State at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)

OXFORD, Ohio—Casey Johnson never played forward at Grand Forks Central.

He didn't in Dubuque, Iowa, during his United States Hockey League career, either.

But when UND coach Brad Berry needed someone to step in for an injury ravaged forward crew last month, he asked Johnson to try it out.

"Getting back in the lineup was a good thing for me," Johnson said. "I just tried to play my role."

That role is now being a utility man.

The 6-foot-2, 198-pound Grand Forks native has worked his way into the lineup through his versatility.

While his natural position is on defense, Johnson has proven to be an effective forward when needed.

He has played four of the last five games up front and registered a key assist on UND's second goal during a 3-0 win over Omaha last Saturday night. The only other time he's played forward since peewees was one game last season against Michigan State.

"He fills a void and he does a great job doing that," UND coach Brad Berry said. "He'll go back there. Coincidentally, that's how we use him at practice. We'll use him at forward sometimes. He's a versatile player and you can never have enough versatile players. That's what good teams are built on.

In recent years, UND has used other young players in dual forward-defense roles, including Tucker Poolman, Gage Ausmus, Andrew Panzarella and Joe Gleason.

"The first couple of games, I was a little leery where I should be," Johnson said. "But I feel like I've settled in.

"I'd say the perspective on 'D' . . the puck is always in front of you. As a forward, you're always turning around. You're backchecking, you're forechecking, you have a different view for the game. The time you have with the puck is different, too. The forwards have less time than the 'D'.

Johnson knows his role starts with defense.

"Coming from 'D', I know that backcheckers are nice," Johnson said. "I try to be the F-3 to help out our D-men as much as I can."

Berry said he's seen progress with Johnson's game at forward.

"Casey's got energy and when you think about the success he's had in the last couple of games, it's because he's getting up on the forecheck," Berry said.

Hoff on the way

Berry said after Thursday afternoon's practice that sophomore forward Ludvig Hoff was expected to land at 11 p.m. Thursday in Cincinnati, returning from the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Hoff's plan was to take a taxi to Oxford, Ohio, which is about an hour away from the Cincinnati airport.

Because of the late arrival and a long travel day—Hoff had to take a four-hour train ride just to get to the airport in South Korea—it may be a long shot for him to play in the series opener.

Hoff played in three games for the Norwegians in the Olympics, including the win over Slovenia in the tournament round. It was Norway's first at the Olympic Games since 1994, when his father, Geir, was on the team.

UND will again be without defenseman Gabe Bast, who didn't make the trip to Oxford. Bast has resumed skating with the team. These will be the eighth- and ninth-consecutive games that Bast will miss due to injury this season.

Miami reeling

UND's opponent this weekend, Miami, has been reeling in recent weeks.

The RedHawks have lost five straight and have been blanked in the last three. Their scoreless streak is at 212 minutes, 1 second, entering the weekend series against UND.

Miami was blanked in back-to-back nights last weekend at Duluth, despite outshooting the Bulldogs by a wide margin Saturday.

"It's that time of year, where everybody is playing for something or getting ready for postseason," Miami coach Rico Blasi said. "I thought last week our guys played not-so-inspired on Friday, but I thought our guys came back and played a really good hockey game on Saturday. I thought that showed the type of character we have."

No. 12 UND at Miami

• When: 6:35 tonight, 6:05 p.m. Saturday.

• Where: Goggin Ice Arena, Oxford, Ohio.

• Webcast:

• Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).

• Records: UND 14-10-8 overall, 8-8-4 NCHC; Miami 10-17-3, 5-13-2.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 14th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman 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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