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Defenseman Brent Johnson's progression a good sign for UND

The Fighting Hawks rookie earned a larger role as the season progressed.

2022 NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championship - East Regional
UND freshman defenseman Brent Johnson celebrates his second goal of the season with his UND teammates in Albany's MVP Arena on March 24, 2022.
Rich Gagnon / UND athletics

GRAND FORKS — The UND coaching staff's trust in rookie defenseman Brent Johnson grew considerably as the 2021-22 season progressed.

There's one stat that tells the story best.

When UND's season was on the line in the NCAA regional against Notre Dame last weekend in Albany, N.Y., Johnson had one of his heaviest workloads of the season.

His 13 minutes, 54 seconds of ice time against the Fighting Irish marked his fifth-highest total of the year.

It continued a second-half trend. Johnson's top eight ice times this season all came in the final eight weeks.


Injuries to other defensemen led to some of that increased ice time. But the Fighting Hawks had seven defensemen available for the regional game against the Fighting Irish and continued to go back to Johnson.

Johnson scored UND's lone goal in the game on a point shot through a screen in the first period.

"For him to score that goal, that was a high-end goal against Notre Dame," UND coach Brad Berry said. "That's a little glimpse of what Brent Johnson is. As you play, you get more confidence. As he played more games, his confidence grew exponentially."

Johnson has high-end offensive abilities both skating and handling the puck. That's why the Washington Capitals used a third-round draft pick to select the Frisco, Texas product last summer.

His point totals figure to increase as he earns more ice time. In order to do that, Johnson needs to continue working on his defensive game and his physical strength — perhaps his most deficient area as a freshman. Johnson is small by nature, 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, and he was unable to lift weights last summer because of offseason shoulder surgery.

"I think his body is going to grow and he's going to get stronger," Berry said. "You're going to see a little bit more of what we saw in Brent Johnson here (late in the season). Without getting ahead of ourselves, I think he's got a great future ahead. He's controlling a lot of those things in a positive way right now."

Johnson's role figures to increase significantly next season.

UND's top defenseman, Jake Sanderson, signed with the Ottawa Senators at the end of the season. The Fighting Hawks will have to fill that spot, likely with a blue liner out of the transfer portal.


The rest of the returning defensemen will have increased roles.

Berry said Johnson handled the ups and downs of his freshman season well and he's excited for the potential growth for next season.

"You never know how that's going to go, but you control your attitude, work ethic and the choices you make every day," Berry said. "He's been outstanding on all three of them. He's already back here on his own, working out, doing his things. He hasn't skipped a beat since the day we got beat out. That tells you he's all in."

2022 NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championship - East Regional
UND players celebrate Brent Johnson's goal against Notre Dame in the Albany Regional at MVP Arena on March 24, 2022.
Rich Gagnon / UND athletics

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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