Goalie camp may be helping SCSU forward Micah Miller to his best college season
Miller has been helping his team's goalies get extra work in twice a week. Senior from Grand Rapids, Minn., leads the nation in short-handed goals, leads the Huskies in plus/minus (plus-18) and has tied his college career best in goals in a season with seven.
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — There are two days a week that the St. Cloud State men's hockey team has been having what they refer to as "Goalie Camp."
Goalies David Hrenak, Jaxon Castor and Joey Lamoreaux have a couple of sessions with volunteer goalie coach Matt Bertram to get some extra work in. A few of the Huskies will come and shoot for the goalies during their camp and, not surprisingly, one of them has been Micah Miller.
Miller, a senior from Grand Rapids, Minn., has garnered a reputation on the team for doing a lot of things that may go unnoticed by casual fans, but are appreciated greatly by his teammates and coaching staff.
"He's been an unsung hero guy because all the little things he does — how good he is on the penalty kill, how good he is on the forecheck," Huskies head coach Brett Larson said. "I think one big thing for Micah — and it's a little thing — but he's hitting the net more. We call it 'goalie camp' twice a week and Micah is a main shooter in that camp. We've talked a lot about this as a staff that that may be helping him.
"He's getting a lot of shooting during the week and that might be helping him finish off pucks and getting them on the net."
The numbers help drive home that point. He is averaging 2.6 shots-per-game and has tied his best season goal total (seven) in 20 games. He had three goals and averaged 2.13 spg last season.
He also leads NCAA Division I in short-handed goals with three and will look to add to that total this weekend when St. Cloud State (6-4 NCHC, 14-6 overall) plays North Dakota (8-4, 13-10) in an NCHC series at Ralph Engelstad Arena. The teams play at 7 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday (Midco Sports, NCHC.tv).
Owning the penalty kill
Larson said that Miller's work on the penalty kill has also been a driving force to his averaging a career-best .6 points-per-game.
"I think it starts on the penalty kill for him. He's taken ownership of it," Larson said. "He and (alternate captain Kevin Fitzgerald) kind of lead it from a forward standpoint.
"I think that gives him juice. When he's out there killing penalties, he gets the shots on and that gets him fired up even more. That's helped establish his 5-on-5 play and his identity that he's a guy who's going to drive the puck hard and shoot it."
Miller has learned to embrace a role that is not typically where there is much glory.
"Just a chance to go out and outwork somebody," Miller said of being on the penalty kill. "You can get some opportunities to get some shorties, too, with Kevin (Fitzgerald) and whoever we are going with. It's always fun to go out there in any situation. It's an important part of the game and helps the team win."
He's helped St. Cloud State score eight short-handed goals, which leads the nation, and the Huskies are tied for eighth on penalty kill efficiency (87.7%).
And while he is a leader on the penalty kill, Miller has also been, arguably, the team's best two-way player in even strength. He is a team-leading plus-18 in plus/minus. Players get a plus-1 for every even-strength goal they are on the ice for with their team and a minus-1 for every goal they are on the ice for when their team gives up a goal.
"He's just a rock for us," said Huskies defenseman Nick Perbix, who will be headed to the Olympics on Sunday. "Whenever the other team has momentum, you send that line (Miller is on with Fitzgerald and Kyler Kupka) out and you see them working in the corners and the 'D' can't get the puck off his stick. All of our 'D' know what that's like in practice.
"He's so fast and powerful," he said of playing against Miller, who is listed at 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds. "He's a bowling ball. You just bounce off him because he's so strong. You love to see that because he gets us going, for sure."
Grand Rapids' points leader on state title team
Miller was one of several highly touted players to help Grand Rapids win the Class AA state title in 2017, leading the team in assists (46) and points (79) in 31 games. Among his Thunderhawks teammates that season were forwards Gavin Hain (North Dakota), Blake McLaughlin (Minnesota) and Mitchell Mattson (Michigan State).
He spent the 2017-18 season playing juniors for the Sioux City Musketeers in the United States Hockey League before joining St. Cloud State. This is his fourth season with the Huskies and playing for Larson, who replaced Bob Motzko as coach in 2018. But he decided to stick with his commitment to the Huskies.
"The coaching staff that got brought in was great," said Miller, who was recruited by Larson when he was an assistant coach for UMD. "I think everybody that was coming here (that first season) still came here and I think that says a lot about our culture. We've got a really good culture within the team."
Miller admits that it took some time to make the transition to college hockey. He had seven points in 31 games as a freshman after scoring 24 goals and having 36 points in 60 games at Sioux City.
"It was definitely a step that was kind of difficult, especially at first," said Miller, who is a finance major and two-time NCHC Academic All-Conference Team honoree. "It took some time getting used to. That talks to our team and culture, too. Our coaching staff was with me every step of the way and my team was with me, every step of the way. Whether I was down in practice on one day, they were there to pick me up.
"It was difficult at first, but it's easy to adjust when you have such a great culture."