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MEN’S HOCKEY: Miller making impact after redshirt season

BEMIDJI -- Aaron Miller spent a year away from hockey but he’s making the most of it this season.

The freshman forward on the Bemidji State men’s hockey team is in his first season with the Beavers, though not his first at the university. Miller took an academic redshirt last year to catch up on his credits and was relieved to finally take to the ice this season.

“It feels amazing to finally get to play,” Miller said. “At the start of the year, it had been like a year since I played…. It’s finally nice to be able to be on the ice with the guys during game days, being in the locker room and doing what we do. It feels great to actually help out the team on the ice now instead of just in the stands doing stats or whatever else I had to do last year.”

The Superior, Wis., native has posted 12 points (3g-9a) so far this season, including three points (2g-1a) in last weekend’s series split at Alabama Huntsville. Miller recorded five points in eight games in January as the Beavers went 5-2-1 on the month.

“He’s really come on and I think over the course of the last month he’s gained a lot of confidence in himself, just like a lot of the freshmen have,” BSU coach Tom Serratore said. “I always say the second half of the year these guys are no longer freshmen. They’re playing like veterans right now.”

“The first half you’re getting in there, you’re trying to figure out what you need to do, how to do it, trying to see what works and what doesn’t work against other teams and whatnot,” Miller said. “Just trying to play up to what coach wants. And then I think by the second semester, after Christmas break when we come back, I think everybody comes back a little refreshed. You already know what coach wants and you’re already moving.”

The Beavers (14-8-6, 11-5-4-2 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) have not been home much since the holidays. The Beavers had only one game at the Sanford Center last month -- a 5-1 non-conference loss to North Dakota -- and have not hosted a league series since late December.

Lake Superior State will be the first WCHA foe to venture to Bemidji in 2018 for this weekend’s series. Both games are slated for 7:07 p.m. tonight and Saturday, Feb. 3.

The Beavers swept the Lakers (6-20-4, 4-15-3-0 WCHA) Jan. 5-6 in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., by scores of 3-0 and 6-3.

“We know we have to get pucks behind their defensemen and play hard down low and move our feet,” Miller said. “We can’t take a night off like we did last weekend.”

Miller was referring to the 5-1 loss to UAH last Friday that ended the team’s 11-game unbeaten run and eight-game win streak in league play. BSU turned the tables to capture a 5-1 win the following night, but Serratore said he knew it would be hard for the team to sustain its energy during the long road trip.

“But still, you don’t want to make an excuse,” Serratore said. “You have to be ready to play and there’s so much at stake right now. So you want your guys to be at the top of their game all the time and we weren’t (on Friday).”

Playoff implications are on the line for both teams this weekend. BSU is five points ahead of Michigan Tech for the fourth seed and home ice in the first round. LSSU needs to gain ground -- eight points to be exact -- on eighth-place Alaska just to make the playoffs.

“They’re fighting for their playoff lives, we’re fighting to try to get home ice,” Serratore said. “We all have something at stake right now.”

Austin Monteith

Austin Monteith is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He is an Illinois native and a Butler University graduate. Follow him on Twitter @amonteith92.

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