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Can't 'Top this

By Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports USA, 11/24/12, 10:30AM CST


Defense a new treat for Duluth Marshall's Anthony Miller

Caden Flaherty stopped 36 of 37 shots as Duluth Marshall beat Mounds View, 3-1 (Photos by Tim Kolehmainen).

Anthony Miller (15) scored the opening goal in his first game on defense for Duluth Marshall.

Preventing goals? Nah.

Scoring goals? Now we’re talking.

Tickling the twine is what Duluth Marshall junior Anthony Miller has excelled at in his hockey career. A lifelong forward, he tallied 11 goals and 31 points as a sophomore last winter as Marshall advanced to the Class A state tournament. With the graduation of Mr. Hockey finalist Judd Peterson from the Duluth Marshall lineup, Miller was expected to be one of the key players picking up the slack.

But those plans have hit a bit of a detour this winter – and perhaps permanently.

With injuries decimating the Hilltoppers’ defensive corps, Miller shifted back to the blue line Saturday night against Mounds View at Mars Lakeview Arena. While his learning curve must have been steep, it didn’t appear so after one game. Looking like a natural offensive defenseman, Miller opened the scoring with a length of the ice rush and helped the ‘Toppers hold the potent Mounds View offensive down in a 3-1 victory.

“When I had the puck, I liked being able to see the ice better,” said Miller, who said he lobbied for more time at defense by promising coach Brendan Flaherty a Chicago handshake. “(I was) kind of like a quarterback. It was more fun than at forward when you have no time and space.”

One of Miller’s teammates strolled by during the interview, chirping “he’s a good D-man for a forward.”

Miller’s initiation to the blue line came on the heels of a trio of injuries to regular defensemen. Sophomore Jordan Fralich broke his arm during the football season but is expected to return this week. Nate Johnson has been trying to play through a broken tibia. Nate Sepp suffered a concussion during Friday night’s 6-0 shutout of Roseville. With only two solid defensive defensemen remaining – Kyle Jones and Kyle Mckinzie – the Hilltoppers needed a few warm bodies on the blue line.
Enter Miller.

He admitted that Flaherty’s advice on playing defense for the first time in his life was a bit limited.

“Just tie up down low and make sure none of their guys get loose,” recalled Miller. “Stay in front of the net when the pucks in the corner. Basic stuff.”

But Flaherty knew not to rein in one of his best goal scorers. He also told Miller to take his offensive chances when they came.

The first chance was the best. With the ‘Toppers on a power play in a scoreless game midway through the first period, Miller curled out from behind his own net and saw the ice open up.

Accelerating to full speed, he burst through the neutral zone and split two Mounds View defensemen with a toe-drag. The puck slid off Miller’s stick, but he slingshot it past a surprised Brandon Smith to give Marshall a 1-0 lead.

It was an important goal as Miller and his new defensive mates shut the door. Marshall has allowed just one goal in two games – and just may have found a new weapon the blue line.

“It felt good when I had the puck, but when they had the puck it was a little sketchy down low,” laughed Miller. “In our own zone, I didn’t really know what to do.

“Once I got the puck, I felt fine.”

Miller (15) watches the puck slide past Mounds View goalie Brandon Smith.

Statistics, Summary

Game recap

Two games into the season, the Duluth Marshall defense has been virtually impenetrable.  The Hilltoppers (2-0-0) finally allowed a goal, but remained unbeaten with a 3-1 victory over Mounds View (1-1-0) at Mars Lakeview Arena.

Coming off a 6-0 shutout of Roseville the night before, Marshall stymied the Mustangs with another good defensive effort and sound goaltending. Coach Brendan Flaherty has been forced to patch together a defensive corps, as injuries have knocked out several regulars. But no matter who he throws back there, they seem to come up big.

Anthony Miller played his first-ever game on the blue line and scored the opening goal to get the 'Toppers going. After Ryan Elvidge drew Mounds View even just 56 seconds into the second period, Matt Klassen regained a one-goal lead for Marshall. Connor Flaherty added an empty net goal with 1:20 remaining.

Senior Caden Flaherty got the nod in goal for the 'Toppers, making 36 saves on 37 shots. Sophomore Alex Murray had posted a 21-save shutout against Roseville.

Brandon Smith made 28 saves for Mounds View, which outshot the Hilltoppers 37-31.

1. Anthony Miller, Duluth Marshall
Miller looked like an old pro on his first-ever game as a defenseman -- at any level of hockey. He scored the first 'Toppers goal on a length-of-the-ice rush and used his speed and puck-handling ability to create several other scoring chances.

2. Caden Flaherty, Duluth Marshall
Coach Brendan Flaherty has a full-fledged goaltending duel on his hands, as Flaherty was in position to make 36 saves on 37 Mounds View shots. Rarely out of position, he wasn't forced to make many spectacular saves but was consistent and steady.

3. Ryan Elvidge, Mounds View
Elvidge not only scored the Mustangs' only goal to tie the game 56 seconds into the second period, he also had several other heart-breakingly close chances. Elvidge and the Mustangs' second line looked like a scoring threat most times on the ice.

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