When the next touch of the puck ends up in the net, a fanned shot counts for as much of an assist as a well-crafted pass.
The helper that K’Andre Miller recorded on the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team’s tying goal against Penn State on Saturday is exhibit No. 1 of that line of thinking.
Miller lined up to take an open shot from the slot midway through the third period but had the puck roll off the end of his stick as he fired.
The embarrassment was short-lived, however, because it served as a perfect pass to teammate Max Zimmer at the left side of the net for a putaway.
“Some bounces go your way, some don’t,” Miller said Monday. “I mean, I’ll take it. I’m just happy we got out of that game with a win.”
Miller got out of it with more: The freshman became the first Badgers defenseman in more than six years to record a four-point game when UW defeated Penn State. He added a goal and two other assists.
Justin Schultz was the most recent blueliner to post four points, with two goals and two assists in a victory over RIT on Jan. 6, 2012.
Schultz also is the most recent defenseman to lead the Badgers in scoring, with 47 points in 2010-11. As this season nears the midpoint, Miller has become the most consistent point producer for the Badgers and its leading scorer with 15 points.
The longest that the first-round draft pick of the NHL’s New York Rangers has gone without a point is three games. Everyone else on the UW roster has recorded at least four in a row scoreless.
Miller, who never had a four-point game in two seasons with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program and two seasons with Minnetonka High School in Minnesota, has three multiple-point outings so far with UW.
“I think his confidence for a young player, a freshman, and the desire from within when the game’s on the line to want to be a part of it is really special for a young player,” Badgers coach Tony Granato said.
Miller, the national rookie of the month for October, also scored the go-ahead goal in Saturday’s 8-5 victory, with Zimmer taking his turn giving an unusual assist. Zimmer’s pass across the zone just after crossing the blue line deflected into the air off the stick of Penn State defenseman Paul DeNaples.
The puck floated to Miller in the right faceoff circle, and he gloved it down with his left hand, rolling it in front of him for a wrist shot that touched the underside of the crossbar on its way into the net.
Miller has been trying to add some offensive flair to his game, and he’s surprised himself with the production.
“Playing hard, being hard to play against and being good in your defensive zone often leads to offensive chances,” he said.
Miller likely will have his name on the U.S. training camp roster for the World Junior Championship when it’s released this week. The U.S. coaching staff for the under-20 event that runs Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, has been keeping a close eye on Miller, defenseman Ty Emberson and right wing Sean Dhooghe.
“We’re hoping all three of them have that opportunity,” Granato said. “I think they’ve all played well enough to deserve it.”
It’s a rarity in the first half of the season for the Badgers (6-7-3, 2-3-3-1 Big Ten) to play an unranked team. Their past 10 games, and 12 of 16 played so far, have been against ranked opponents.
So Granato wants to act early this week to head off any potential for a letdown with unranked Michigan State (6-7-1, 2-3-1-1) coming to the Kohl Center on Friday and Saturday.
“They are as good as a lot of the ranked teams that we’ve played,” he said. “They compete. They just beat Michigan and tied Michigan. They’re a team that has really established their identity as a grinding team that’s hard to play against.
“And it’s important for us, especially with these being the last two games before finals, we’ve got to stay focused on getting better each and every week.”
The Badgers have the next three weekends off for final exams and the holidays after hosting the Spartans.
UW became the first team this season to outshoot Penn State in all three periods last Saturday. The Nittany Lions lead the country in shots on goal by an average of more than four per game. ... Miller was one of three Badgers players who set a personal best for points in a game. Sophomores Jason Dhooghe and Tyler Inamoto had two assists apiece.