Two weeks ago, no one on the Michigan hockey team’s bus had a deck of playing cards.
And for Tim Miller, a bus trip without cards is unthinkable.
So as the bus warmed up for the five-hour journey to Sault Ste. Marie, the sophomore forward took a chance – just so he could play Euchre.
Michigan coach Red Berenson was minutes from boarding. And when Berenson is on the bus, it leaves. Simple as that.
But Miller got off and bolted for the nearest store.
“I knew I’m a pretty good runner, so I went for it and I made it back in plenty of time,” Miller said. “It’s a long bus trip, so it gets pretty boring. It was definitely worth it.”
Just like he was nearly left behind for that night’s contest against Lake Superior State, it would be easy for the Davisburg native to be left behind when talking about his class.
Never the flashiest guy on the ice, Miller came to Ann Arbor last year as one of 12 members of a giant freshman class. The star-studded swarm of newcomers included NHL first-round draft picks Jack Johnson and Andrew Cogliano.
As Johnson and Cogliano wowed crowds with their raw talent last season, Miller quietly tallied 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) himself.
In his sophomore campaign, Miller has upped his offensive output to 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) after switching from wing to center.
But the real place Miller shines is on the other end of the ice.
The forward has made a name for himself defending Michigan’s zone, especially on the team’s top penalty-killing unit.
“When you’re a defensive player, you take pride in things you take pride in,” Berenson said. “You don’t need to have the goals and the points and the draft status that other players have. You know you’re helping the team and you know your teammates and your coaches appreciate what you do.”
Defensive moves have never garnered as much hype as an offensive flourish, but a perfect penalty kill can swing a game’s momentum.
And when it comes to the bread and butter of penalty killing – blocking shots – Miller is in his essence.
“You know he’ll take a bullet for the team, he’s blocking so many shots,” fellow sophomore and penalty killer Travis Turnbull said. “That’s definitely a tough job. Not many people want to get in front of the puck like him.”
Turnbull and Miller have played together on the third line for much of the season. The duo has struggled to contribute offensively on a consistent basis but had a strong showing in the final weekend of the regular season, a split with Ohio State.
Miller provided the game-winning assist on Feb. 23 and a game-tying goal on the following night, both late in the third period. But even with Miller’s offensive prowess steadily increasing, his defensive abilities are still what make him key to the Wolverines’ success.
“He’s very underrated,” Turnbull said. “He does so many of the little things that really are big with our team and contributing to wins.”
Michigan needs wins more than ever as it enters the CCHA playoffs on Friday, and tight defensive play can make that happen.
The Wolverines will look to Miller for that, and since they have home-ice advantage, there’s no chance of leaving him behind for a deck of cards.