This week, the Minnesota Wild invited fans back to the Xcel Energy Center for the first time in more than a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Luke Johnson's family took advantage. His parents, Steve and Nancy, sister Ellie and brother Max were in attendance for Wednesday night's game between the Wild and the Colorado Avalanche.
It ended up being an unforgettable night for the Grand Forks family.
Johnson scored his first NHL goal, snapping a shot past Colorado goaltender Philipp Grubauer in the first period of Minnesota's 8-3 victory.
"It's special for sure," said Johnson, who played prep hockey at both Grand Forks Red River and Grand Forks Central before helping UND to the 2016 NCAA national championship. "I grew up dreaming about that moment. To have my family in tonight, too, it just meant a lot. I'll definitely remember this night, for sure. It's a night I'll never forget."
The goal came in Johnson's 30th-career NHL game. His first 15 came with the Chicago Blackhawks and his last 15 with the Wild.
"I've been working my whole life for an opportunity like this," Johnson said. "I'm just taking it day-by-day. I try to work my hardest to stay in the lineup and have an impact every night. I'm just doing everything I can to help the team win."
Johnson's goal came on an odd-man rush.
Ironically, it was a former Minnesota Gopher -- Kyle Rau -- who made the pass to Johnson.
"It's pretty funny how it worked out," Johnson said. "Kyle, he's a great player. I got to play with him in Iowa last year, and obviously, this year, too. I enjoy playing with him. It felt weird, but obviously, good at the same time."
Zach Parise, a star at UND while Johnson was growing up, also was on the ice for the goal.
"He's got a great shot," Wild teammate Ryan Hartman said. "I've been with him for a while -- I was with him in Chicago. It's not just on the ice, he works really hard off the ice. He's always on the bike and always preparing for these nights. So, I'm pretty happy for him to get the first one."
Johnson has worked to gain a consistent spot in the lineup. He's played in each of the last five games for the Wild, who are in third place in the North Division with 50 points.
Wild coach Dean Evason said he was informed after the game that the goal was Johnson's first in the NHL.
"It's awesome," Evason said. "We have discussions, obviously, of who is going to stay in the lineup and who is coming out of the lineup. We had to make some tough decisions. One of them was him. But because of the way he's played. . . we've talked about his faceoffs, how good they've been. In the circle, he just competes his butt off."
Evason said he likes Johnson playing center, where he anchored the second line in leading UND to the 2016 national title.
"We had him playing on the wing early in the year," Evason said. "He didn't look real comfortable at that spot, although he did very well there. He's very natural at center ice. It's been tough to take him out. Obviously, great goal for him here tonight."
Johnson is believed to be the fourth Grand Forks native to score in the NHL, joining Fido Purpur, Ryan Potulny and Johnson's cousin, Paul LaDue.
Zajac traded to Islanders
Travis Zajac played two seasons at UND, reaching two NCAA Frozen Fours.
The center from Winnipeg turned pro shortly after the 2006 Frozen Four in Milwaukee, signing with the New Jersey Devils. He has been with that organization ever since -- 15 seasons, 1,024 NHL regular-season games, 202 goals, 550 points, 57 playoff games and a Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
On Wednesday, that lengthy run -- a rarity in this day and age -- ended when Zajac was traded to the New York Islanders.
Zajac, who is in the final year of an eight-year, $46-million deal, waived his no-trade clause to go to the Islanders, who are tied atop the East Division. The Devils are in a rebuild.
Zajac will team up with former UND forward Brock Nelson with the Islanders. Those two never played together at UND.
Zajac has been particularly hot as of late, tallying 14 points in his last 16 games. He is New Jersey's leading scorer since March 9. For the season, Zajac has 18 points in 33 games.
The full trade sent Zajac and forward Kyle Palmieri to the Islanders. The Devils received forward Mason Jobst, A.J. Greer, a first-round pick in 2021 and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2022.
Kawaguchi scores in first pro game
It didn't take Jordan Kawaguchi long to make an impact in the pros.
The former UND captain and Hobey Baker Award finalist scored his first pro goal in his first pro game Tuesday night for the Texas Stars in the American Hockey League.
Kawaguchi hauled in a pass while cutting down the slot and ripped a wrist shot past Colorado Eagles goaltender Hunter Miska. The goal tied the game 2-2. Texas lost 5-4. Kawaguchi added an assist in the third period. He was named the third star of the game.
Kawaguchi signed an NHL deal with the Dallas Stars last week after playing four years for the Fighting Hawks. The Abbotsford, B.C., product had 126 points in 136 college games.
First pro game, first pro goal for UND captain Jordan Kawaguchi. pic.twitter.com/FI9rXdAUBO— Brad Elliott Schlossman (@SchlossmanGF) April 7, 2021
Scheel gets first pro start
Former UND goalie Adam Scheel didn't have to wait long to get his first pro start.
Scheel, who signed a free-agent contract with the Dallas Stars less than a week ago, started for their AHL team, the Texas Stars, on Tuesday night against the Colorado Eagles.
Scheel stopped 32 of 37 shots in a 5-4 loss.
The Lakewood, Ohio, product posted a .931 save percentage this season for UND. He was named the National Collegiate Hockey Conference's goaltender of the year and a semifinalist for the Mike Richter Award as college hockey's best goaltender.
Michaud scores first pro goal
Westin Michaud wasn't supposed to play Wednesday night.
Michaud was a last-minute addition to the lineup for the AHL's Manitoba Moose, because their parent club, the Winnipeg Jets, called up forward Kristian Vesalainen.
It worked out. Michaud scored his first pro goal on a rebound in Manitoba's 3-2 loss to Belleville. The goal came in his 14th game with the Moose.
"It means everything," Michaud said about getting his first goal since his UND days. "I think that confidence, that swagger, was a little bit missing. I got a little down on myself and had to use some positive reinforcement tactics to try to get back on top. I decided to just go out there and have fun. That was the No. 1 thing we keyed in on today."
Michaud said he leaned on family and friends when the goals weren't coming.
"I think the confidence is through the roof now," he said. "I think I'm going to be going out there and flying around the rest of the season. I know I'm that two-way player that can put the puck in the back of the net. I've done that at every single level.
"I think the first year in college and juniors, I struggled a little bit. Now, since I'm starting to figure the game out, how it moves so quick, the little reads, I'm starting to figure all those things out to score goals here."