A heavy load, North Dakota’s Luke Johnson takes Player of the Week


It’s probably not the sexiest name for a hockey line, but it may be the most accurate.

ASN-Luke-Johnson-POWThe Heavy Line of Luke Johnson (6-0, 194 pounds, at right), Austin Poganski (6-2, 204) and Rhett Gardner (6-2, 215) is a big reason North Dakota advanced to its third consecutive Frozen Four.

Johnson’s two goals over the weekend against Northeastern and Michigan, along with the line’s suffocating defense, earned him ASN Player of the Week honors.

The trio came together for defensive purposes on Feb. 26 and in the eight games since they’ve grown stronger, adding depth to a UND squad loaded with 12 NHL draft picks.

Their primary goal for the big heavy is to match up and shut down an opponent’s top line, which was evident in the Midwest Region title game. They held Michigan’s vaunted CCM Line of three Hobey Baker Award candidates — the top three scorers in the nation — to two goals and a minus-seven rating in North Dakota’s 5-2 victory.

They, in turn, were plus-five.

Johnson, a native of Grand Forks, N.D., home of the Fighting Hawks, is a fifth-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 and ran his goal-scoring streak in the NCAA Tournament to five games.

He’s part of a junior class that has never lost a regional contest. His line finished with five points against Michigan and Northeastern over the weekend. Poganski is a 2014 fourth-round pick of the St. Louis Blues, while Gardner is an undrafted freshman.

Johnson’s power-play goal against Michigan was UND’s first in four games and ended an 0-for-7 power-play skid. Just as important is that since the line was formed, Johnson has won 61% of his faceoffs, tops on the squad.

Johnson joined teammates senior Drake Caggiula, sophomore defenseman Tucker Poolman and sophomore goalie Cam Johnson on the All-Midwest Region team.

Luke’s dad Steve played at UND from 1984-88 and was a member of UND’s 1987 NCAA championship team, He was a first-team All-American and Hobey Baker Award finalist during the 1987-1988 season. His uncle Chad Johnson also played at UND from 1990-93.

Above: North Dakota’s Luke Johnson ran his goal-scoring streak in the NCAA Tournament to five games. (Courtesy UND Athletics)

Dave Dondoneau

Dave Dondoneau is a freelance writer based in Honolulu. Follow him on Twitter @DakotaHI.