College hockey: UMD’s Miller gets his championship
ST. PAUL — The heartbreaking losses in Jade Miller’s past were right there at the front of his mind Saturday night.
As the clock ticked down late in the third period at the Xcel Energy Center, Miller didn’t allow himself to believe that this time would be different.
“They give you doubt,” Miller said of his losses in six championship games or series throughout his hockey career. “I don’t know if they make you mentally tougher after that many.”
That doubt is now gone for Miller, a former Austin Bruins forward who helped the University of Minnesota Duluth defeat Notre Dame 2-1 at the Xcel Energy Center on Saturday night in the NCAA Division I college hockey national championship game.
The victory was extra sweet for Miller, who had tasted defeat so many times when under the brightest spotlight.
From an overtime loss as an eighth-grader in North Dakota’s Bantam state championship game, to three losses in North Dakota high school state championship games while playing for Grafton/Park River, to a loss in the North American Hockey League championship series, the Robertson Cup, while playing for the Bruins in 2015, to a loss with UMD in last year’s national championship game, Miller has been through more than his share of heartbreak.
“But this is going to be good for me, mentally, for the rest of my life,” he said after carrying the championship trophy into UMD’s locker room late Saturday night. “You look back on those games and think ‘I wish I could have done this or that,’ and to have this now ... this is going to be really nice to look back on some day and remember this moment.”
As has been the case throughout the Bulldogs’ four-game run through the national tournament, they got off to a strong start, and Miller played a big role in seizing the momentum early in the game.
Just more than nine minutes into the game, he grabbed a loose puck at neutral ice and fed a pass to quick-skating, high-scoring teammate Karson Kuhlman.
Kuhlman streaked into the Notre Dame zone, faked a slap shot from the right circle, then fired a hard wrist shot that beat Irish goalie Cale Morris high for a 1-0 UMD lead.
FIRST TWO GOALS
“It was a broken play at center ice,” Miller said. “(UMD’s) Blake Young made a nice play, forced a turnover and it popped right onto my stick. I knew Karson was still behind me. Luckily I threw it right on his tape and he made a really nice move and put it high-glove. A really nice play by him to start us off.”
Nine minutes later, Kuhlman set up teammate Jared Thomas for a 2-0 lead, a lead the Bulldogs (25-16-3) made hold up.
That Kuhlman was even on the ice when Miller made the early pass to him was a positive outcome after a stroke of misfortune. Kobe Roth — whom Miller centers on UMD’s fourth line, along with Billy Exell — suffered a broken ankle just minutes earlier when he was checked hard into the boards by Notre Dame’s Justin Wade.
Kuhlman, a senior captain playing in his final game at UMD, didn’t hesitate to double-shift and jump in with Miller and Exell on the fourth line.
“That line has played great all year,” Kuhlman said. “We knew coming into the season we’d have really good depth up front. That (first) goal was a good play by Jader; he got his stick on a puck and I was able to transition quickly and sneak one in.”
Notre Dame managed its lone goal on a power play, when Andrew Oglevie scored 7:40 into the second period. But that was the only one to beat UMD goalie Hunter Shepard, who didn’t allow an even-strength goal in the Frozen Four and held off a late push by Notre Dame.
“I was just praying I’d get to throw something in the air,” Miller said. “It’s just pure ... no words to describe it. Being a national champion, that’s a childhood dream.
“There’s that old saying ‘losing hurts more than winning feels good,’ but I don’t know. After that many losses, this one feels really good and we’re going to celebrate this one for awhile.”
Chris Garner, a 1997 Rochester Mayo graduate who played on the Spartans’ state tournament team that year, earned his second national championship ring. Garner is in his 10th season as the Bulldogs’ equipment manager.
He held the same job in 2011, when UMD won its first championship, in a game also played at the Xcel Center.