Helix grad Miller helping melt the ice for unbeaten Aztecs

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The San Diego State University men’s ice hockey team is off to an undefeated start; the Aztecs are led by a familiar face — one from East County.

Sophomore Isaac Miller is a second-year forward for SDSU. The 2016 Helix High School graduate scored the game-winning goal in last Saturday’s 5-4 win over the University of Southern California at the Poway Ice Arena to extend the Aztecs’ season record to 10-0-1.

The San Diego State University men’s ice hockey team is off to an undefeated start; the Aztecs are led by a familiar face — one from East County.

Sophomore Isaac Miller is a second-year forward for SDSU. The 2016 Helix High School graduate scored the game-winning goal in last Saturday’s 5-4 win over the University of Southern California at the Poway Ice Arena to extend the Aztecs’ season record to 10-0-1.

SDSU is off to its best start since joining the Division 2 tier in the American Collegiate Hockey Association, a national organization governing non-varsity college ice hockey teams.

SDSU was won 10 of its 11 games in regulation play; the team’s lone loss was in a shootout to visiting Grand Canyon University on Oct. 8 after the teams had skated to a 2-2 tie.

The Aztecs swept USC in a pair of home and home games last weekend, winning by a score of 11-2 last Friday in Anaheim.

Miller scored at the 13:03 mark of the third period in the teams’ rematch on Oct. 28 to enable SDSU to snap a 4-4 deadlock against the Trojans. Assists went to teammates Tyler Smith and Hayden Bolls on Miller’s game-winning goal.

Miller is no stranger to sports with sticks. He played lacrosse while attending Helix. He played roller hockey locally in East County at the Skate San Diego rink in El Cajon.

He played for the San Diego Tron Hosers Blue Minor Division team during the 2014-15 American Inline Hockey League season. He collected 15 goals and seven assists for 22 points in 24 regular season games to finish in a tie for second place in team scoring. He scored one goal in two playoff games.

The Aztecs finished 16-7-2 last season. Miller was an instant contributor as a freshman with 15 goals and nine assists for 24 points in 22 games. He scored four power play goals, one short-handed goal, accumulated 34 minutes in penalties (most on the team) and notched three game-winning goals.

He entered the weekend set against USC with three goals and three assists this season.

With flowing locks protruding from beneath his helmet, he’s the easiest player to spot on the ice.

“It’s definitely a lot more physical than roller hockey,” Miller summed up about playing full-contact ice hockey. “You’ve got to throw your body around more, definitely keep your head up a lot more. But playing roller hockey definitely helps with stick-handling and stuff like that.

“The strong point of the Aztec team this year is that we all get along, we’re cohesive. We all want to win, so we have one goal in mind and I think we’re going to get it.”

SDSU's success has come with the infusion of 10 new players to the program, according to head coach Phil Bateman.

“The team this year is a very young talented team,” Bateman explained. “We just put in a motto early — work before skill.

“The skill was always going to be there. These guys have adopted that and, for the most part, they’re going out every night and working. Some times, with a very young team, with 10 freshmen, there is a maturation that has to happen but, for the most part, they are buying in. It’s a10-0-1 start, the best since we’ve been a Division 2 team.”

Winter wars

The 2018 ACHA national championship tournament is scheduled March 9-13 in Columbus, Ohio. Four teams from the West region will participate in the 16-team event.

The top two ranked teams in the West region receive a bye to the national tournament. Teams ranked third through 12th will compete in a regional tournament Feb. 22-25 at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, to determine the next two qualifiers.

The first regional rankings are due out in November. Bateman feels his team should score a high mark in the rankings if it can remain undefeated.

The Aztecs depart for three games in the Bay Area this coming weekend — Friday, Nov. 3, against Santa Rosa Junior College; Saturday, Nov. 4, against San Jose State University; and Sunday, Nov. 5, against Weber State University. All three games will be played at Sharks Ice in San Jose.

SDSU stays on the road for a Nov. 11 game against Loyola Marymount University before returning home to play Long Beach State Nov. 18 at the Poway Ice Arena.

The Aztecs are set to make history locally by playing in an outdoor game on Dec. 18 as part of the Frozen Fairgrounds event at the Del Mar Arena. SDSU is scheduled to play Long Beach State. Face off is 8:15 p.m.

The Del Mar Arena seats approximately 3,000. SDSU has been drawing 300 to 500 fans to games at its current home arena in Poway.

“The college game is going to be the centerpiece (of the event),” Bateman said.

The Aztecs’ regular season schedule extends through the first weekend in February prior. Upcoming opponents, besides Long Beach State, include the University of Texas-El Paso (Jan. 12-13) and Northern Arizona University (Feb. 2-3).

Among teams in the West region, Northern Colorado is 10-0-0 while Boise State University is off to an 8-0-1 start. Closer to home, NAU is 8-1-0 while Cal-Berkeley is 8-2-0.

Arizona State University is currently the only NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey program west of the Rockies.

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