Miller's four goals propel Kittanning into PIHL semifinals
Few players in the PIHL can play with the fervor of Kittanning sophomore forward Christian Miller. On Thursday night, in the Wildcats' Class A Penguins Cup quarterfinal contest against Freeport, Miller showed just how dynamic he can be.
Miller scored four goals, including three in the third period, to lift the sixth-seeded Wildcats past the No. 3 Yellowjackets, 5-2, at a boisterous and bipartisan Belmont Ice Complex in Kittanning.
“It was definitely enjoyable, but all that matters in the end is getting the ‘W',” Miller said. “We played a great game. We had a plan and we stuck to it.”
The Wildcats move on to face No. 1 Quaker Valley (21-0) in the semifinals at 8 p.m. Monday at Robert Morris' Island Sports Center.
Kittanning (14-8-1) entered the game in an unfamiliar position: the underdog.
The Wildcats lost four of their final five games. Freeport (16-6-1), meanwhile, had won seven of eight, including a 5-3 victory over Kittanning on Feb. 14, the first time the Yellowjackets had won the match-up since the Wildcats' return to Class A in 2009.
“I think that's something we have been talking about,” Kittanning coach Jamie King said. “(We've been) saying, ‘We are the underdogs, we are the road team tonight, so let's just commit to playing as a team,' and I think we did that tonight.”
After a nervy, physical spell of play at the start of the game, the Wildcats got on the board first. Senior forward Eli Johns capitalized on a goalmouth scramble to put the Wildcats in front.
Miller doubled the lead to 2-0 just over a minute later, finding a wealth of space on the rush and firing a heavy wrist shot past Freeport freshman goaltender Matt Huston.
The Yellowjackets came out with renewed vigor at the start of the second period. Freshman forward Stone Haberstroh's goal cut the lead to 2-1 and prompted a flurry of offense from the Yellowjackets.
But Kittanning senior goaltender Cameron Langham made a number of key saves to keep the Wildcats in front. He finished with 23 saves on 25 shots.
“We rely on him; he's awesome. It is what it is,” King said with a laugh. “It's not like that's a secret. I mean, he's the best goalie in single A we think.”
Miller gave Kittanning some breathing room at the 6:24 mark of the third period, scoring his second and re-establishing a two-goal lead. But Freeport wasn't finished yet.
Junior Cole Hepler, a key to the Yellowjackets' offense all season, scored with 2:42 remaining to set-up what looked to be a nail-biting finish — until Miller undid it all. Just 28 seconds later, he finished off a 2-on-0 rush on his own, beating Huston on his glove side to make it 4-2.
“We score, we think we're going to press and, you know, the last minute or so, probably close to two minutes, we'll pull the goalie and try and really put that last one in to get it to overtime. Or, who knows, even get a two,” Freeport coach Dave Hepler said. “We turn around and give one right back. The next shift, we give one right back. That pretty much takes the wind out of everyone's sails at that point.”
An empty-netter with four seconds remaining capped Miller's impressive evening. Junior forward Cody Toy had three assists for the Wildcats, and junior forward Hunter Grafton logged another two helpers.