CHICAGO | For parts of two seasons, Adam Johnson and Neal Pionk made magic while with the Sioux City Musketeers.
Friday night, they’ll be on the ice at the United Center in Chicago playing for the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the Frozen Four. Johnson and Pionk are among five former Musketeers playing for the third-seeded Bulldogs, who will take a 27-6-7 record into a 5 p.m. first-round game against second-seeded Harvard (28-5-2).
Harvard has one former Musketeer on the roster, goaltender Cam Gornet. Another former Musketeer, defenseman Bobby Nardell, plays for fourth-seeded Notre Dame (23-11-5), which will face top-seeded Denver (31-7-4) at 8:30 p.m.
Johnson’s power-play goal, 1:57 into overtime, gave Minnesota-Duluth a 3-2 win over Boston University in the West Regional Final on March 25 at Fargo, North Dakota. Pionk and another former United States Hockey League skater, Alex Iafallo of the Fargo Force, each assisted on the goal that put Coach Scott Sandelin’s Bulldogs in the Frozen Four for the fifth time in school history and the first time since 2011, the year they won the national championship.
Johnson, Minnesota-Duluth’s second-leading scorer with 38 points (18 goals, 20 assists) needed just 22 seconds to score his seventh power-play goal of the season.
“I took a one-timer and the shot got blocked,” Johnson said in a story that appeared on the Minnesota-Duluth athletic department website.
“I was fortunate enough to get it back on the wall and I saw an opening. I just tried to fake a shot and get that guy to bite and shoot it by him. I found the corner and it was a good feeling.”
A sophomore, Johnson has scored in three of his last four games. Pionk (8, 24), a sophomore defenseman, has scored in four of his last five games.
Johnson was the USHL’s second-leading scorer for the Musketeers squad that won the Western Conference regular-season title, tallying 71 points (31, 40). Pionk, the captain of that squad, led the league’s defensemen with 48 points (7, 41).
Three more former Musketeers play for the Bulldogs – senior defenseman Dan Molenaar (1, 8) along with junior forwards Avery Peterson (7, 7) and Jared Thomas (3, 8).
Brett Larson, the Musketeers’ head coach from 2011-13, is in the second year of his second stint as an assistant coach on Sandelin’s staff. Larson was in his third year as a UMD assistant when the squad defeated Michigan 3-2 in overtime to win the title.
Minnesota-Duluth has won seven straight games while Harvard is on a 16-game tear. It’s Harvard’s 13th Frozen Four, but first berth since 1994.
Gornet, a freshman goaltender, has played in parts of three games for Harvard. In 55 minutes of action, he has converted each of his 27 save attempts.
Nardella has seven goals and 14 assists for Notre Dame, which is making its third Frozen Four appearance.
The Frozen Four title game will start at 8 p.m. Saturday.