Miller Is The Leader Of This Pack

PITTSBURGH

— He wore a "C" on his Yale jersey, and on this magical Thursday night in Pittsburgh Andrew Miller would wear a "VM" on his head.

In the truest sense of what it means to be a leader, Andrew Miller earned both of them.

"That goal by Andrew couldn't be more fitting," center Jesse Root said after Miller scored 6:59 into overtime against UMass Lowell to put Yale into the national hockey championship against Quinnipiac. "The guy doesn't rattle. He's a great leader."

Coach Keith Allain and his captain are an understated hoot at press conferences. They are two slices of Wonder Bread and together they are a Saltine cracker. They are so impassively matter-of-fact, so deadpan, you almost expect Steven Wright to join them at the podium.

Great moments, however, make crazy kids out of all us. And when Miller corralled a bouncing puck near the blue line, blew around UMass Lowell defenseman Greg Amlong and slipped a backhander through the legs of goalie Connor Hellebuyck, nobody jumped for joy higher and louder than Allain.

And now here was Allain's captain, his most logical extension, walking into the Frozen Four press conference wearing a bright, old-school yellow helmet. Yep, this was tantamount to Mister Spock cutting lose and wearing a lamp shade. This was William F. Buckley, the late, great Yalie, going Carrot Top.

"[The helmet] is a team award that we hand out after every win," Miller said without fanfare. "I was honored enough to receive the award tonight."

He wasn't getting off that easy. Pressed for a guided tour of the helmet, Miller pointed out on the back was the number 1701.

"That's when Yale University was founded," Miller said.

And …

"Got a Yale sticker, which is our school."

Warned you about the deadpan.

"And another Yale sticker … and Jofa ... it's a phenomenal helmet."

And those big VM letters on the front of the helmet? Does it mean Very Mature? No …

"Varldmasterkap," Allain said. "That was the Jofa brand helmet. It stands for world championship in Swedish."

There is one last battle left, of course. It's for the national championship Saturday night. And the coolest thing of all is it can't be won without winning the state championship.

"We want Yale! We want Yale!" Bobcats fans, fortified by three victories over Yale this season by a combined score of 13-3, chanted in the closing moments of a 4-1 domination of St. Cloud State.

They will get them after what Allain called as complete an effort as his team had all season. The UMass Lowell players said they didn't have their legs for this game, a mystery given the importance of the night and how much rest both teams had. This much is sure. The Bulldogs brought their legs, their heart, their brain and their "A" game. Yale took away the River Hawks' transition game. Disciplined, patient, they did a great job of transitioning into their own offense. As Gus Young said, the Bulldogs were disciplined in their shapes, one defenseman pinching, the other backing up. Even after Riley Wetmore and Joseph Pendenza struck for goals in a 14-second one-two punch in the second period to tie it 2-2, Yale didn't rattle.

Only Hellebuyck kept UMass Lowell in this one. The final shot total was 47-18. And from the close of the second period, Yale carried a whopping 22-3 shot advantage. Simply put, the better team won. Hockey, however, is not simple put, and one bad bounce, one mistake in overtime can destroy what appears to be a superior performance.

Not on this night. Not with Miller.

Yale looked bad in the ECAC tournament, getting shut out by Union and Quinnipiac, but suddenly Yale is the most clutch team going. Root scored nine seconds into overtime to stun No. 2 overall seed Minnesota. Down a goal with 8:35 left in the third period to North Dakota, the Bulldogs rose with an offensive rush. And now this night.

"That's the way our season has gone," Miller said. "We've been able to bounce back, and it's kind of a good characteristic of our team."

Allain, Miller said, has been all over him this year to shoot the puck more. Well, he had six shots on this night and it was the sixth one that sent Allain jumping for the CONSOL Energy Center rafters.

"It was a good bouncing puck," Miller said of the decisive play. "We stopped them in transition a bit, came across, and I think it caught a defenseman flat footed."

What was he thinking?

CHICAGO