OMAHA, Neb. — Micah Miller was named the No. 1 star of Tuesday's win over Western Michigan for the St. Cloud State men's hockey team after he picked up a goal, assist, a key blocked shot and three shots on goal.

Miller, a junior from Remer, Minn., had a solid finish to last season with six goals and seven assists in the Huskies' last 18 games. Last season, like most of his in previous seasons, he got off to a slow start with four assists in his first 11 games and picked up his first goal in his 12th game of last season.

As a freshman, Miller had one assist in his first 11 games and picked up his first goal in his 13th game for the Huskies.

He played junior hockey for the Sioux City Musketeers in the United States Hockey League. In his full season there in 2017-18, he finished tied for 10th in the USHL in goals with 24 in 60 games. But that came after not scoring his first goal until his 13th game with three assists in his first 12 games.

Miller is well aware of this trend and, before last season ended, made a decision to change his offseason routine by living in St. Cloud for the summer to work out with teammates.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

"After our season ended, I went home for a couple weeks — maybe a month — and then I moved back to St. Cloud and was working out in St. Cloud and Sartell pretty much the whole summer," he said. "It was one of my best summers, for sure, in terms of being able to work out a lot and we were able to get a few skates in."

Remer is about 26 miles away from Grand Rapids, where Miller played his high school hockey. Being closer to people to work out with in the summer sounds like it was beneficial.

"I felt like I could take big steps in my game if I got a full summer in with weights and skating as much as I could," said Miller, who is listed at 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds. "It was a predetermined decision that I was going to stay in St. Cloud for a majority of the summer.. Hopefully, I think it will pay off this year."

Miller said that, while the delay to the start of the season because of the coronavirus pandemic has not been optimal, it has been beneficial.

"When we started practicing, I felt like I was in the best shape I've been to start the season," he said. "Since then, we had 2-3 months (working out) as a team. I think I'm in my best shape and I think that's the case for a lot of the guys. It feels good to hit the ground running."

In the win over the Broncos, Miller played on a line with junior center Nolan Walker and sophomore left wing Chase Brand. With the game tied 1-1 in the second period, his line was working on a forecheck along the boards and Miller made a quick power move below the goal line, got out front, fanned on a shot, spun around and threw the loose puck into the net.

"Their starting goalie (Brandon Bussi) got injured, so they had to put in their backup (Austin Cain), so we were just trying to put shots on net," Miller said. "We got a cycle and I got the puck below the goal line and I just tried taking it to the net. I originally got denied and I just tried throwing it on net and it ended up going in.

"A gritty type of goal that I'm accustomed to, I guess."

And then Miller had a big hand in the game-winning goal. He blocked a shot in the St. Cloud State zone, caught a pass from Nick Perbix and skated over the Western Michigan blue line and passed the puck back to Perbix, who scored the odd game-winner.

"Perbs made a great play at the blue line to get the puck out and then we had an odd-man rush and he gave it to me," Miller said. "Credit to Perbs because he gave it to me and didn't stop driving to the middle. I was surprised he got the shot off because he had a guy right on him. It was kind of a crazy goal because the Western Michigan guy (Josh Passolt) was trying to bat it into his own corner and he ended up batting it into his own net."

Perbix did not realize he had scored until several seconds after.

"I was going to the net and I saw (Passolt) go up to bat it and I figured he'd bat it behind the net, so I was hoping Chase would get to it and I'd go out front," Miller said. "I saw it go into the back of the net and I was kind of shocked.

"(Perbix) asked what happened and he didn't really know what was going on. You'll take those. Rather be lucky than good."

St. Cloud State forward Jared Cockrell (21) and Western Michigan forward Luke Grainger (9) collide in the second period Tuesday, Dec. 1, at Baxter Arena in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
St. Cloud State forward Jared Cockrell (21) and Western Michigan forward Luke Grainger (9) collide in the second period Tuesday, Dec. 1, at Baxter Arena in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

4 newcomers debut for Huskies

Of the 19 skaters suited up for the opener, 15 were returning players for the Huskies. The four newcomers were senior forward Jared Cockrell, senior defenseman Seamus Donohue, freshman forward Veeti Miettinen and freshman defenseman Brady Ziemer.

Cockrell, who played the last three seasons at Colgate and is a graduate transfer, had two shots on goal, a blocked shot and was a plus-2. He played on a line with senior center Will Hammer and sophomore left wing Kyler Kupka.

"I really like that line," Huskies head coach Brett Larson said. "I liked Jared Cockrell's energy. We brought him in to be a Nick and Jack Poehling-type of player. Each shift, I thought he kept building."

Donohue, who played the last three seasons at Michigan Tech and is a graduate transfer, had a shot on goal, a blocked shot and was even. He played on the top defensive pairing with Perbix.

"I thought Seamus Donohue had a nice game," Larson said. "He logged a lot of minutes for us."

Miettinen, who led the top Finnish junior league in scoring last season and was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs, had three shots on goal, a blocked shot and hit the crossbar with another shot. He played on a line with sophomore center Jami Krannila and senior right wing Easton Brodzinski.

"Veeti Miettinen rang one off the post and I think you can see that there's a lot there," Larson said.

Ziemer, who played junior hockey last season for the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL, had a shot on goal and was a plus-1. He was paired with junior Brendan Bushy and senior Luke Jaycox.

"I thought Brady Ziemer really battled hard," Larson said. "We're hoping one day that he's going to be the next Jon Lizotte here and he showed a lot of compete and grit and battle.

"I was really happy with the new guys."

Western Michigan forward Lukas Samuelsson (19) races after St. Cloud State defenseman Seamus Donohue (3) in the first period Tuesday, Dec. 1, at Baxter Arena in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Western Michigan forward Lukas Samuelsson (19) races after St. Cloud State defenseman Seamus Donohue (3) in the first period Tuesday, Dec. 1, at Baxter Arena in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Playing with no fans

Other than off-ice officials, arena personnel, a handful of media people in the upper potion of the arena and people helping with statistics, there was no one in the arena other than the teams and officials on the ice. There are 72 cardboard fans in seats and banners for the teams in the lower bowl at Baxter Arena and St. Cloud State will play nine games in the NCHC pod through Dec. 20.

The public address announcer announced the starting lineups as he typically would, there was music during breaks in play and some piped in crowd noise. But from the press box, you could hear players, coaches and referees yelling and sticks on the ice.

"It was odd at first," Larson said. "I would say the strangest part was during the lineups and the national anthem. Once the puck dropped, it just felt like a hockey game and it certainly felt fun to be playing hockey again and seeing the guys get after it."

For more hockey news: The Rink Live is your top-shelf destination for regional hockey coverage. Situated in the country's premiere hockey footprint, skate on over for exclusive content and the latest in college, USHL and high school hockey. Subscribers to Forum Communications' network of newspapers also enjoy access to The Rink Live as part of their membership.