K’Andre Miller returned to Madison in the early hours Monday, tired from travel, tired from a grueling tournament, tired from battling the flu.
“I need sleep right now,” the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey defenseman said Monday afternoon.
It should be noted that Badgers coach Tony Granato offered Miller the day off from practice. But the freshman declined and participated Monday as UW started the week leading into Saturday’s exhibition game against the U.S. Under-18 Team.
Miller won a silver medal at the World Juniors in Vancouver; the United States fell to Finland 3-2 in Saturday’s championship game.
An illness that swept through some members of the U.S. and Swedish teams sidelined him for the last game of pool play, a victory over Finland, on New Year’s Eve. He played a limited amount of time compared to other defensemen in the Americans’ other six games.
The U.S. won a medal in its fourth straight World Juniors, an unprecedented feat for the country.
“Obviously, you never want to be sick in that type of big tournament,” Miller said. “But just being able to put on that sweater and being able to represent your country is always an honor. Getting second, it’s not the goal but we made big steps and to get our fourth medal (in four years) was pretty special.”
Miller collected one assist and finished plus-1 in his six games. He played an average of 14:10 per game, ranking sixth among the U.S.’ seven defensemen in ice time.
He said he expected to be playing a secondary role as an 18-year-old in an under-20 tournament. And he had to adjust to a different playing style.
But he said it was a “great experience and should be a great steppingstone for next year.”
As for the next couple of months with the Badgers, the high pace of the tournament could draw more out of his already high-level game.
“I feel great now, ready for the second half of the season and excited for the next couple of months,” Miller said.
Second honor for Miller
For the second time in the season’s first three months, Miller took home the national rookie of the month award for play in December.
Miller led freshmen with an average of two points per game in December and was third with six points. He helped the Badgers go 3-0 in the month and had the winning goal in UW’s 8-5 victory over Penn State on Dec. 1.
The New York Rangers first-round draft pick leads UW with 17 points. He also was named the national rookie of the month in October.
Faltering in third
In the four games prior to the Badgers’ midseason break, they outscored opponents 8-0 after the second period. Their return after three weekends off was a different story.
Denver outscored UW 6-1 after the second period in gaining a non-conference sweep at the Kohl Center last Friday and Saturday. The teams were tied on Friday before Denver outscored the Badgers 4-1 in the third period.
On Saturday, UW led 3-2 after two periods but the Pioneers tied the game in the third and won in overtime.
“As far as pinpointing exactly what happened, maybe we were back on our heels a little bit,” Badgers defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk said. “But I think Denver came out hard in both games in the third. That’s something that, obviously, we need to get a little better at, weathering their storms.”
Granato didn’t discount the possibility that going nearly four weeks without a game played into his team’s late shortcomings. But he said that, results aside, he saw what he wanted to see from the Badgers.
“I was happy with our team, completely happy,” Granato said.
The most recent time the Badgers were outscored by more than five goals after the second period in a two-game series was at Ohio State last February (6-0). It most recently happened at the Kohl Center in December 2017 against Notre Dame (also 6-0).
No OT success
Saturday’s loss to Denver extended the Badgers’ streak of overtime games without a victory to 11 (0-4-7). UW most recently won in extra time at Michigan State on Feb. 4, 2017.
Since winning the inaugural Big Ten Conference tournament title in overtime in 2014, the Badgers are 2-6-21 in overtime. They haven’t won an overtime home game since Dec. 14, 2013, against Colorado College.