Adam Johnson Giving UMD Offense a Lift
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On that portion of the boards, “Minnesota-Duluth” was written in blue letters. And sophomore Adam Johnson was skating right in front of his school’s name, watching the Bulldogs’ power play in overtime. All they needed was one goal to end the string of regional losses and make it back to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2011, when Minnesota-Duluth won it all.
First Alex Iafallo collected the puck from behind the net. He tossed it to Neal Pionk, who was skating near the blue line. Pionk fed it to Johnson, who slammed a shot towards the net. The puck was blocked, but the hockey gods guided it right back to Johnson’s stick. This time, Johnson rolled into the top of the right circle between Boston University’s Clayton Keller and Doyle Somerby.
Johnson took the shot.
"I was bummed out the first shot didn't get through but luckily it came through to him, and we've talked about that type of play off the half wall where you kind of attack and maybe change the angle of the shot and just get it to the net,” head coach Scott Sandelin said.
This time it went in.
“He did the same thing against North Dakota in the NCHC Championship," Sandelin said. "It wasn't a blocked shot but it was the same type of play where he got up, he came off the wall hard, made a strong push to the middle and just kind of held onto it, made one little move and snapped it by the defenseman which beat their goaltender.”
Seconds later, Johnson was back in front of the Minnesota-Duluth sign, slamming his body into the glass as his teammates mobbed him in celebration.
“I was really happy for the team because I knew how badly everyone wanted it,” Johnson said. “To have that dream come true for everybody, it's just all great."
It was a wild regional for the Bulldogs, who needed two overtime wins to make the Frozen Four. But it wasn’t the first memorable regional Johnson attended. He was in the stands in 2009 in Minneapolis when the Bulldogs scored two goals in 39 seconds to force overtime against Princeton. The Bulldogs also won in overtime, with Mike Connolly scoring the game winner at 5:21.
It makes sense Johnson, who was 15 at the time, was in the stands. His father, Davey, played for the Bulldogs from 1977-81 and captained Minnesota-Duluth in 1981.
"As a family we used to go to Bulldog games and he decided when he was just a little tyke that he was going to be a Bulldog,” Davey said.
Adam, who hails from Hibbing, Minn., the same town as Sandelin, started attending Bulldog hockey camps as a kid.
“I just remember watching him at our hockey camp — this was a guy when he was maybe 10, 11, I think I'm thinking this kid's a pretty good hockey player,” Sandelin said.
When the phone call for an commitment from Sandelin came, Adam said yes.
“They were always the only school I wanted to go to so as soon as they talked to me and asked me if I wanted to come here I said yes. ... They were the first and only team I talked to and I just said yes right away,” Adam said.
Adam was drafted by the Indiana Ice in 2011 but stayed in Minnesota to finish his senior season with Hibbing/Chisholm and was a finalist for the state’s Mr. Hockey award. He joined Sioux City the season after and scored 46 points through 56 games.
“I saw him get real tough and had to play through a lot of adversity his first year,” Davey said.
The next season Adam totaled 71 points through 59 games to finish as the second-highest scorer in the USHL, earning himself a spot on the All-USHL First Team.
“Going to play juniors I wasn't a fan of doing that at the time after my senior year of high school but once I got through that initial step it turned out to be actually a big growing thing for me and i wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for that,” Adam said.
As a freshman with the Bulldogs, Adam scored 18 points over 39 games. He’s already doubled that point total this year with 18 goals and 37 points over 40 games.
“His freshman year he had a lot of chances to score and kind of got down because he didn't,” Sandelin said. “I think he must've hit about seven or eight pipes in the first month and a half of his freshman year instead of having about 10 goals he had maybe two, again the ups and downs of being a freshman, the mental part of it. But I think he's gotten a lot stronger mentality and a lot more consistency to his game and certainly gotten stronger physically.”
Five of Johnson’s 18 tallies have been game winners, including the golden goal against Boston University. Johnson also assisted on the game-winning goal in the Bulldogs’ NCHC championship win over North Dakota.
“He can really skate,” Pionk said. “It's a threat to a lot of defenders. He can go around them and if he can get them to bite on going around them he can go on the inside, so I'd say his speed his biggest asset."
Speed is what helped Johnson slide down the ice and place his shot perfectly between two Terriers for the game-winning goal on March 25. And even though Davey was unable to attend, he was still celebrating from home.
"It's great. I'm enjoying it and I'm very proud of him,” Davey said. “There's some fans from back in the days when I played 40 years ago that are still fans and I see every now and then."