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Grand Forks native Kaleb Johnson's first action in a UND jersey is a 'dream come true'

The former Central netminder stopped all five shots he faced during 20 minutes of work.

UND hockey vs. Manitoba - Oct. 1, 2022
Fighting Hawks goaltender Kaleb Johnson stops a shot from Manitoba Bisons forward Devon Skoleski (10) early in the third period of an exhibition hockey game at Grand Forks' Ralph Engelstad Arena on Saturday, Oct.ober 1, 2022.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — As the final seconds of UND's 5-1 exhibition victory ticked off the scoreboard Saturday night, Kaleb Johnson raised his hands over his head.

Then, the Grand Forks native rested them both on top of his helmet in a bit of disbelief.

"All the memories of my childhood just came over me there," Johnson said. "It was a little emotional for me there. It was always my dream. To get that win is so special."

It may have just been an exhibition, but it meant much more for Johnson, who starred at Grand Forks Central High School from 2015-18 and went 37-1-2 as a sophomore and junior.

It marked the first time the redshirt freshman has entered a contest wearing a UND jersey.

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Johnson did not play in either exhibition game last season, nor has he played in a regular-season game yet.

But with Jakob Hellsten out due to illness, Johnson played the third period of UND's preseason exhibition against the Bisons.

"It was really exciting," Johnson said. "It was a dream come true for me just to be able to go out on the ice and the guys played awesome in front of me. They made it really easy on me throughout that whole third period."

Well, it wasn't that easy.

Louis Jamernik V was called for a five-minute major for checking from behind, Matteo Costantini for a high-sticking minor and Ryan Sidorski for an interference minor, meaning the Fighting Hawks were shorthanded for nine of Johnson's 20 minutes in net.

UND hockey vs. Manitoba - Oct. 1, 2022
Former Grand Forks Central hockey standout and current UND goaltender Kaleb Johnson (1) celebrates the Fighting Hawks' 5-1 exhibition win over the Manitoba Bisons with captain Mark Senden (19) Saturday, October 1, 2022 at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

He stopped all five shots he faced, though.

"That wasn't the game plan to take a five, but it's all right, we have a dog mentality on our team," Johnson said. "We're going to kill that every time, which they did. I was just really proud of the guys."

Johnson is expected to start the season No. 3 on the depth chart behind fifth-year senior Drew DeRidder and Hellsten, a sophomore.

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"I'm just keeping a positive mindset every day," Johnson said. "We're all here to get better and support each other every day. Jakob and Drew are awesome guys and we all support each other, so no matter what, we're going to be there for each other and we're just going to keep pushing each other every day."

Brad Elliott Schlossman module image

If you haven't read Saturday's game story, check it out below.

Dylan James, Ben Strinden, Jackson Blake and Owen McLaughlin all played on special teams during their first game in a North Dakota uniform.

On Saturday, DeRidder started the game and stopped six of seven shots through 40 minutes of work. Manitoba's lone goal came on its first shot on net — a point shot through a maze of bodies at 9:25 of the opening frame.

He gave way to Johnson in the third, and the Grand Forks native closed out the exhibition victory. It was his first game action since he was in the North American Hockey League 18 months ago.

"I'm glad I got to share it with this group of guys," Johnson said. "They're just awesome. They're great people. They're hard workers. They made it even more special for me. Without those guys working their butts off on the ice, blocking shots for me there, and getting the puck out, this wouldn't happen. So, I'm extremely thankful for those guys."

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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