Johnson Finds Magic At Right Time
by Michael King/CHN Reporter
MANCHESTER, N.H. The 2011 CCHA playoffs seemed like a nightmare to Notre Dame goalie Mike Johnson. After leading his team to 18 wins over the regular season, Johnson was pulled during a 6-2 loss to Miami in the tournament's semi-final.
It was a flashback to the 2010 conference playoffs, when the goalie was pulled after allowing fours goals on nine shots to Ohio State during the first round.
This was not the same Mike Johnson who took the ice for the Irish on Sunday. In his team's 2-1 win over New Hampshire in the NCAA Northeast regional final, the sophomore made 37 saves and helped the Irish survive various periods of sustained UNH offensive pressure.
"You have to remember he's only a sophomore," coach Jeff Jackson said on Johnson after Sunday's win. "His biggest problem is that he wants to do well so bad and he's over-thinking. I told him he just has to focus on stopping the puck."
Clearly Jackson's advice resonated with his goalie, as Johnson earned the Northeast regional's Most Outstanding Player award and stopped 69 of 73 total shots.
"The defensemen and forwards did a great job with back pressure, allowing me to see the puck all night, and clearing out rebounds," Johnson said.
Though the sophomore's teammates are indebted to him for earning a birth in the Frozen Four, Johnson knows that successfully recovering from that loss against Miami would take a complete team effort.
"I think knowing that we would be able to bounce back [from the CCHA playoff loss] was the most important thing," Johnson said. "Our leadership in the locker room was incredible."
Though Johnson's numbers are not the best in the CCHA (0.903 save percentage, 2.62 goals-against average), the sophomore's consistency gives the Irish a chance to win on a nightly basis.
Against the Wildcats, Johnson made several brilliant saves, including one in the second period on a close snap shot by Mike Sislo after Paul Thompson fed his linemate with a pass from the right slot. Johnson calmly kicked the puck wide to the boards out of danger.
The Wildcats had no shortage of similar chances. In fact, he played the first two periods with the pressure of preserving either a one-goal lead or a tie game.
The only goal Johnson surrendered was an opportunity even the most accomplished goaltenders would have struggled to stop. Sislo calmly collected a centering pass from Matt Campanale in front of the net and neatly wristed the puck over Johnson's right blocker.
That goal thrust the pressure back on Johnson as he found himself, again, protecting a single-goal advantage. But the sophomore remained poised.
Unlike the final two minutes of most 2-1 hockey games, Johnson did not face a single shot as Mike Beck was sent to the penalty box for tripping. After clearing the zone, the Wildcats opted to pull their goalie, effectively creating an even-strength situation. However, UNH failed to create a scoring chance as the Irish sealed their spot in the Frozen Four.
Johnson was equally as sharp Saturday evening as he helped his team defeat Merrimack in overtime. He made 34 saves, including six during the extra period as the Warriors appeared poised to find the game-winner.
Not surprisingly, Notre Dame's best stretch of hockey this season coincided with strong play from the netminder. The Irish went 8-2-2 in the 12 games preceding the CCHA tournament, as Johnson earned six of those wins.
Going back one season, things were much different. Johnson arrived at Notre Dame as the back-up to Brad Phillips. However, the freshman took over the starting job mid-way through the season. Johnson had mixed results in net, commonly juxtaposing strong performances with ones that forced the Irish to make comebacks late in games.
A focus coming into this year was to help the goalie limit the number of poorly played games. But naturally, Johnson wasn't asked to do this alone. The sophomore has a corps of defensemen capable of effectively blocking passing lanes and clearing pucks. Junior Sean Lorenz finished a plus three for the tournament and was one of Johnson's most reliable defenders.