College men's hockey: 'Miller Line' leads Bulldogs into postseason
Despite their placement on the line chart each night, Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin isn't a fan of Kobe Roth, Jade Miller and Billy Exell being called the Bulldogs' fourth line.
So the coach was asked last Saturday what he calls that trio of forwards. What should everyone call them?
"We'll call them 26's line," Sandelin said, before coming up with something better.
A nice play on words for the middle of that line, but an almost unthinkable title back in mid-January when Miller, a junior centermen from Minto, N.D., watched freshman Jesse Jacques of Hermantown play between wings Roth and Exell in the Bulldogs' home series vs. St. Cloud State.
That was the last time Miller sat in the stands in one of his stylish suits. He's not only centered Roth and Exell in the 14 games since, but now carries a five-game scoring streak into this weekend's NCHC quarterfinal series against Nebraska-Omaha at Amsoil Arena.
Miller has three goals in the last five games — the line as a whole has four in five games — going into the best-of-three series, which gets underway at 7:07 p.m. Friday. Game 2 is at 7:07 p.m. Saturday and, if necessary, Game 3 will be played at 7:07 p.m. Sunday.
"His confidence has gone through the roof these last few games, especially now that he's scoring. Once you get that first one, they come a little easier," said Exell, referencing the goal Miller scored Feb. 23 in his home state of North Dakota to snap a yearlong goal-less skid.
"It's great for him. We've been playing great together and our line is playing well."
Miller posted three goals and 10 assists a year ago, playing in 38 of 44 games. Most of that time was spent centering Exell, now a senior assistant captain, and Roth, a sophomore. Those three were together throughout UMD's NCAA tournament run, until Roth left the national championship game with a broken leg.
The trio started the season back together, but three games in a rotation at center developed with Jacques often playing Fridays and Miller on Saturdays. Miller said it was difficult not being in the lineup every night, but he stayed positive throughout and began putting in extra work off the ice.
Miller said his play in the defensive zone needed work and once that improved, he not only became a regular in the lineup but he started scoring, too.
"I think my D-zone has taken a good step forward in the second half. That's one of the things Coach really wanted me to pride myself on. It wasn't where it needed to be," Miller said. "That kind of contributed to a bit of the rotation.
"One thing I started doing during the first half of the year was watch video every Monday with (assistant coach Adam) Krause. I'm still doing that, really making sure there are no holes in my game defensively. We've seen it work where we are not spending as much time in the D-zone. We're breaking pucks out better and supporting each other all over the ice."
In addition to becoming a better player defensively, Sandelin credited Miller for his success in the faceoff circle. The centermen now boasts the best faceoff percentage among the Bulldogs' six faceoff regulars at 57.9 percent.
Miller also has been consistent in the second half. The entire line has, Sandelin said, adding the Bulldogs' other three lines could learn a lesson watching the 'Miller Line' every night.
"It's not complicated hockey. It's simple, it's playing together, working hard. That's what those guys have done," Sandelin said. "Lately they've been scoring some goals for us. That's a bonus. Hopefully it continues."
NO. 7 NEBRASKA-OMAHA (9-22-3) AT NO. 2 UMD (21-11-2)
What: NCHC best-of-three quarterfinal series
When: 7:07 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, if necessary
Where: Amsoil Arena
TV: KBJR Ch. 6
Radio: KDAL-AM 610/KDAL-FM 103.9
Internet: nchc.tv (video)