Johnson struggles with missed chances

Ninety minutes of action last weekend only left goalie Justin Johnson disappointed.

Lou Raguse

Last summer, when Minnesota men’s hockey goaltender Justin Johnson heard fellow netminder Travis Weber was leaving the team, he said he didn’t know what to think.

On the one hand, he had become close friends with Weber and was concerned and frustrated that he knew no details of his comrade’s departure.

On the other hand, Johnson felt the excitement and opportunity of being thrust to the forefront of the Gophers’ goaltending plans.

He began the season as Minnesota’s No. 1 goalie. But by the November series in Wisconsin, freshman Kellen Briggs had already earned the spot as the team’s regular starter.

Since then, Johnson has spent plenty of time pondering why he wasn’t able to seize the opportunity at the beginning of the season.

And now, with the postseason around the corner, Johnson said he hopes to better grasp any remaining chances he might be given.

“From my preparation in the summer, I thought I would be ready to perform at a level acceptable to myself and the coaches,” Johnson said. “When it didn’t happen, it was a shock for me and a disappointment, obviously.”

Johnson has played in 12 games this season – starting five – and has a .859 saves percentage.

In last weekend’s series at Denver, Johnson was on the ice for 90 minutes of play – his most in a two-game series this season.

Although he allowed three goals Friday and four Saturday, Johnson held down the Pioneers for a long stretch as the Gophers battled back and gave Denver a competitive game.

But the performance was frustrating to him, because he said he knows he can do better.

Last season in the WCHA

Final Five, Johnson stepped in for the injured Weber and helped Minnesota to its first Broadmoor Trophy since Don Lucia became head coach in 1999. Johnson stopped 36 of 38 shots as the Gophers defeated Colorado College in the championship.

“That added to the frustration of last weekend,” Johnson said. “Because I know I’ve done it in the past, and I know that was my opportunity to do it again – and I failed.”

Minnesota’s coaching staff said they would like to see Johnson step up to the challenge. Assistant coach Mike Guentzel said that the competition created by Briggs stepping in and playing strong in the net has ultimately made the team stronger.

“Justin had to sit down and evaluate himself and say, ‘You know what, I’ve got to get

better,’ ” Guentzel said. “He’s found this year to be a little more difficult than he thought it would be.”

To earn a more regular spot in the rotation, Guentzel said, Johnson will have to work to a .900 save percentage – the benchmark of a championship goalie.

And even if Johnson, who said he is happy for Briggs’ success, doesn’t get another chance this year, this will be his biggest offseason.

“With next year being my senior year and my last chance here, there’s that extra fire,” Johnson said. “It’s a new type of fire that’s driven me through this year and will into next year.”