It has been a remarkable season for the Dalhousie University Tigers men’s hockey team’s Shaun Miller.
Starting with a three-point performance in his second game of the regular season, the 5-foot-11 rookie has continued this success. As of Feb. 23, he sits ninth in points (22) and fifth in assists (16) in Atlantic University Sport (AUS).
“I think I’m a half-decent shooter as well, but I’ve always been a pass-first kind of guy,” Miller said. Through the season, he has often set up in the “one-timer” position on the Tigers’ power play. Teams typically place their best shooters in that role.
“I think spending time on the ice practicing, doing work after and before practice, moving the puck and creating a bond with those players makes it very easy to be able to find out where they want to be on the ice,” he said.
Derek Gentile is Miller’s former teammate at Dal and with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s (QMJHL) Cape Breton Eagles. He was the second-highest scorer in the AUS this season before signing with the East Coast Hockey League’s (ECHL) South Carolina Stingrays in January.
Gentile said Miller’s passing ability is “perfect” and does not think he would have the same success without it. But his assist total doesn’t tell the entire story of his game, given he has also scored six times in 19 games this season.
“Shaun can put the puck in the back of the net when he wants to,” Gentile said. “I think he’s going to be relied on pretty heavily, and I think you’ll see him find the back of the net more and more as time goes on.”
The chemistry developed between Miller and Gentile came from roughly a year together in Cape Breton, for portions of the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 QMJHL seasons. Their familiarity with one another proved valuable when taking the ice together as Tigers.
“When you play a sport with a guy, you know him as a player on the ice and you have a good relationship off the ice, it’s easy to give positive feedback and constructive criticism to each other and understand exactly where he’s going to be on the ice at all times,” Miller said.
Becoming a leader on the team
Tigers head coach Chris Donnelly said Miller has improved his forechecking which has, in turn, opened up more offence for both Miller and the team.
“I thought that Shaun’s ability to forecheck in the offensive zone led to a lot of turnovers that helped him create a lot of offence as well,” Donnelly said.
A key to success for teams is to have communication. Donnelly said Miller’s ability to have conversations with coaches has been a huge part of his success.
Their communication may be the biggest key for the Tigers heading into the playoffs. With the team’s two highest scorers, Gentile and Barret Kirwin, having moved on, Miller will receive a lot of responsibility from the coaching staff.
“He’s not afraid to share his opinion, nor is the coaching staff,” Donnelly said. “It leads to some really good honest conversations. I think it’s a big part of why he’s having some of the success he’s having, as he’s able to understand other people’s points of view.”