February 28, 2008
Michigan's Miller Savors Magical Moment

By James V. Dowd

As Michigan sits a single win or Miami loss away from clinching its first CCHA regular-season title since 2005, the names of the Wolverines who have played crucial roles in the team's success come readily to mind. Except for one, that is.

CCHA Notebook

Timmah!: Michigan junior forward Tim Miller scored a pair of goals — his first and second of the season in Saturday's 5-2 win against Michigan State at Joe Louis Arena.

National TV Schedule

Fans across the country know about Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik's explosive offensive production, blueliner Mark Mitera's steady defense, and Billy Sauer's dream season between the pipes. But junior Tim Miller, a grinding, shot-blocking forward, gets lost in the shuffle.

But in last Saturday's win against Michigan State at Joe Louis Arena, Miller finally enjoyed his moment in the spotlight, scoring the Wolverines' first and last goals — his first goals of the season — in a 5-2 triumph.

“It feels great to get [the first goal] off my back,” Miller said after the game. “I feel a lot lighter right now. It's going good now. It's a big game with a lot of people watching. I had a lot of my family here too. It was a big goal for me and for the team.

"I think my teammates were more excited than I was. They were going nuts on the bench."

Miller might not catch the eye of the average fan, but his contributions certainly haven't gone unnoticed by coaches, teammates, and opponents alike. Throughout his entire career, CCHA personnel have named him as one of the league's best penalty killers and defensive forwards, and praise him for his leadership.

“We wouldn't play him if we didn't think he was an honest player,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “It's not just about scoring goals. It's about playing a role and helping your team. He plays physical, and he plays strong. He's a good penalty killer and a good two-way player for us.”

Flying under the radar isn't anything new for Miller, who was part of Michigan's massive 11-man freshman class three years ago, a group that included three first-round draft picks. While U-M fans were drooling over the arrivals of Mitera, defenseman Jack Johnson (now with the Los Angeles Kings), and forward Andrew Cogliano (who plays for the Edmonton Oilers), the Michigan coaching staff was already talking about Miller's ability to make an impact at both ends of the ice after watching him play in juniors.

Although Miller's point production has been sporadic at Michigan, he showed a prowess for finding the back of the net in juniors, notching 38 points in 59 games for the USHL's Omaha Lancers the year before he arrived in Ann Arbor. But the more telling statistic, at least in the eyes of Michigan's recruiters, was his team-leading plus-minus rating of +25.

The Wolverines know they can count on Miller to play solid defense, but with Kolarik sidelined for several weeks, Michigan needs its role players to help fill the void and contribute offensively. After shining in the Michigan State game, Porter believes the team can look to Miller to amp up his offensive output.

“For [Miller] to score is huge,” Porter said. “Hopefully he continues to bury the puck the rest of the year in these last few games and in the playoffs. It would be great for our team.”


Ring My Bell: It hasn't been heard all that often this season, so Lake Superior State fans were thrilled to hear the Hoholik Victory Bell ringing after the home team notched a 3-2 victory over Northern Michigan in Sault Ste. Marie Thursday. Though the Lakers were already doomed to playing on the road in the first round of the league playoffs and the Wildcats had previously secured an opening round home berth, the fight for momentum, Upper Peninsula bragging rights, and the Cappo Cup traveling trophy were certainly enough to keep this series interesting.

Heading into Thursday's game, it seemed that NMU may have had the Cappo Cup, which is decided by total goals scored in the 'Cats-Lakers season series, already in hand, having built a 7-3 lead after two Thanksgiving weekend wins. But the Lakers took a small bite out of the Wildcats' lead heading into Saturday's finale in Marquette thanks to two points apiece from forwards Dan Eves and Zac MacVoy.

With Thursday's win and last weekend's sweep of Alaska at Taffy Abel Arena, the Lakers have put together their first three-game winning streak of the season and have a 6-2-2 record over their last 10 games. The key to this resurgence — a far cry from the 3-16-4 overall mark Lake Superior had in its first 23 games — has been a refreshed sense of teamwork.

“The biggest thing about it is our guys stayed with it,” Lake Superior State coach Jim Roque said. “No one got individual, and no one panicked on the bench. We just kept working hard, and I have to give a lot of credit to the guys who have matured a lot over the past few weeks.”

Prior to the loss in Sault Ste. Marie, Northern Michigan had been on a hot streak of its own. The Wildcats, who swept Nebraska-Omaha in Marquette last weekend, had won five of their last six games to move into a four-way tie for fifth place in the CCHA standings, which is why the pairings for the first round of the league playoffs next week are still up in the air.

The Wildcats have exhibited the same cohesiveness that has propelled the Lakers to a strong run down the home stretch, but the key for NMU has been the play of goaltender Brian Stewart, who has a 2.00 goals against average over his last seven starts.

“Stewart has been great lately,” Northern Michigan sophomore Billy Smith told the Marquette Mining Journal. “He has helped us win a lot of these games, which is a huge factor for us. He just keeps winning. When he makes saves ... that allows us to win games.”

Great Weekend Getaway
120x60 - Brand Red

Lake Superior State at Northern Michigan (Sat.)

Head up to Marquette for the conclusion of this classic Upper Peninsula rivalry. The Lakers need to win by four goals to retain the Cappo Cup, and while the rabid crowd at the Berry Events Center will have something to say to the contrary, anything can happen between these two passionate squads looking for bragging rights and momentum heading into the postseason.

While you're there: What better way to enjoy the winter wonderland than putting yourself in the middle of it? Check out Presque Isle Park's cross-country skiing trails. While there are some difficult hills, the trails are manageable even for a novice skiier.

Stick Salute

Consistency and longevity are important attributes for any hockey player, as Notre Dame's Mark Van Guilder can attest. The senior center is poised to break the school record for consecutive games played this weekend (knock on wood), as he should skate in his 153rd and 154th straight contests. Van Guilder was not drafted by an NHL team, but some organization will surely look favorably upon his Doug Jarvis-like durability.

Bench Minor

A minor penalty goes to the jersey makers Nebraska-Omaha turned to for one-of-a-kind commemorative sweaters for “Military Appreciation Night” against the US Under-18 team Friday. The team planned to auction off the jerseys off their backs and honor a friend of goalie Jerad Kauffman, who was killed in action in Iraq. Said sweaters, however, will not be in Omaha on time, forcing the Mavs to scramble for alternate American flag-themed threads for Friday's game and auction. The original sweaters will be auctioned off at a later date.


• Nebraska-Omaha's Bryan Marshall gave teammate Mick Lawrence a great deal of credit for his own offensive success several weeks ago, and rightfully so — only Boston College's Joe Whitney has more assists than Marshall's 30.

Lawrence, meanwhile, knocked in his 20th goal of the year last Saturday against Northern Michigan and added no. 21 against Minnesota State Tuesday. He's the seventh CCHA skater this season to reach the 20-goal mark. A league-leading 15 of his markers came on the power play, showing an ability that will make the Mavericks dangerous in the league playoffs.

• After toeing the edge of the cliff known as the CCHA championship race for so long, Michigan State finally lost its balance and fell off the edge with Saturday's 5-2 loss against Michigan. While Friday's win might give the men in Green and White hope for the playoffs — it helped them to a 2-1-1 record against the Wolverines on the season — Saturday's defeat doomed them to an 0-3 regular-season record at Joe Louis Arena, the home of the CCHA semifinals and championship game.

• As if it isn't frustrating enough to be mired deep in the CCHA basement — nine points behind the league's 11th-place team with two regular-season games remaining — Western Michigan also finds itself at the bottom of the conference several other important statistical categories. The Broncos rank last in CCHA games in scoring offense (1.88 goals per game), scoring defense (3.73 goals per game), and are tied for last in net special teams, which is power play goals and shorthanded goals scored less power play goals and shorthanded goals allowed.

• Ferris State has to be feeling a bit of deja vu as it closes out the regular season against the top-ranked team in the country for the second season in a row. Last season, the Bulldogs split a series against Notre Dame in South Bend, winning the opener, 5-2, and dropping the Saturday contest, 2-0. Although Michigan has to be on its toes to keep from being swept, a result similar to Notre Dame's last season would allow them to clinch the league title.

• Speaking of Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish will have to put together a better performance against Western Michigan this weekend if it hopes to keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive. Notre Dame is 5-7-4 since Christmas. Perhaps more important, the Irish's 1-4-1 record against Michigan, Miami, and Michigan State could end up hurting them if they find themselves on the bubble when at-large bids are handed out.

• Ohio State freshman forward John Albert scored in the first minute of Tuesday's loss against Miami, the Buckeyes' first goal in the opening minute of a period in more than four years. Albert and Peter Boyd, meanwhile, are the first pair of Buckeye freshmen to net 20 points in as rookies since Tom Fritsche, Dominic Maiani, and Kyle Hood did it 2004-05.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report. James V. Dowd can be reached at james@insidecollegehockey.com.