College men's hockey: Happy homecoming for Bulldogs' Miller
GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- What was likely Jade Miller's final trip as a Bulldog to his home state of North Dakota began with a team dinner in his hometown of Minto on Thursday.
GRAND FORKS, N.D. - What was likely Jade Miller's final trip as a Bulldog to his home state of North Dakota began with a team dinner in his hometown of Minto on Thursday.
It ended on Saturday with him in the media workroom of Ralph Engelstad Arena watching his younger brother, Blaise, win a state hockey championship with Grand Forks Central just down Interstate 29 in Fargo.
In between, Miller scored a key goal off a faceoff to help Minnesota Duluth reclaim second place in the NCHC with a 3-2 win at North Dakota on Saturday. It was Miller's first goal in a little over a year and it couldn't have come at a better time for the team or himself.
The goal Miller deflected in not only broke a 1-1 tie in the second period, it allowed the fourth-line junior center to fulfill his end of a promise that he and Blaise, a sophomore forward, made to each other earlier in the day.
"Today we had lunch together before he took off for the state championship. We told each other let's both get the win tonight and let's both bury one," said Miller, who grew up 30 miles to the northwest of Grand Forks. "Congrats to him and his team for an undefeated season. That's awesome."
Jade Miller began the season rotating with freshman Jesse Jacques of Hermantown as UMD's fourth-line center, but has since taken over the spot. He's been slotted between sophomore wing Kobe Roth and senior wing Billy Exell for the last 10 games dating to the Jan. 18-19 series at Miami - the Bulldogs' opponent this weekend at Amsoil Arena.
UMD coach Scott Sandelin has been especially pleased with Miller's performance on faceoffs. Miller now boasts the top faceoff percentage among the Bulldogs' centermen at 59.1 percent.
"He won a key faceoff and got to the net and got a stick on it. Good for him," Sandelin said, referencing the goal Miller set up and scored Saturday. "That line gave us some good opportunities, good shifts this weekend. Play hard, sometimes you get rewarded. It all started with him winning a faceoff. That's one thing he's been good at when he's been in there."
Unless the Bulldogs travel to North Dakota for a future NCHC playoff series - a virtual impossibility this year - Saturday was Miller's final college game at The Ralph, a building where he and Grafton-Park River lost three North Dakota state high school championship games. UMD isn't scheduled to return to Grand Forks again during the regular season until the 2020-21 season.
Saturday's goal was Miller's lone point as a Bulldog at The Ralph in four games - UMD didn't play in Grand Forks last year either - but his third win. UMD swept the Hawks in Grand Forks during Miller's freshman year.
Like Blaise, who didn't score in the state title game, the win on Saturday was more important than the point for Jade Miller.
"This being my last time here, I definitely wanted to end with a win," Miller said. "It's always a little more special having my family and friends here. A lot of people came up from Fargo and high school coaches and buddies who go to UND, too. There were a lot of people here tonight and it was special to do it in front of them."
The Bulldogs will have another shot at clinching home ice in the first round of the NCHC playoffs at 7:07 p.m. Friday against Miami via a win and North Dakota loss. A four-point weekend for UMD also would clinch a home best-of-three series March 15-17.
• Duluth native Brett Larson - who also played and served as an assistant coach at UMD - became the second rookie head coach after the Hawks' Brad Berry to lead his program, St. Cloud State, to an NCHC regular-season championship Saturday with a 5-0 win at Nebraska-Omaha. On Sunday, he is believed to become the first NCHC coach to land the Penrose Cup in jail.
Larson and the Huskies weren't arrested, they just got stranded by the ground blizzard on their bus ride home from Omaha. They were rescued and offered refuge by the Watonwan (Minn.) County Sheriff at the county jail, where they had dinner Sunday night before returning home.