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Young Havre star doing big things on the ice

 

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Ever since the railroad has put Havre on the map it has been known for its sports. The small Montana town doesn't have the numbers to compete with some of the state's bigger cities, but the out of the way, Hi-Line community has a knack for producing some of the state's elite athletes. Havre's 16-year-old Brandt Miller is no exception. He eats, sleeps and breathes hockey, and has an almost endless list of accolades to prove it. The newest accomplishment in Miller's already 10-year career on the ice came on April 11 of this year when he and the Montana Thunderblades, a USA Hockey Tier II 16-and-under team won the 2A National Championship in West Chester, Penn. The Thunderblades defeated the Atlanta Fire 5-4, avenging a 7-2 loss to the Fire earlier in the tournament. And to the credit of the Thunderblades, nobody expected them have much of a chance let alone skate away with the title. Some 40 teams made an appearance at the tournament, most of which skate together nearly year round. The Thunderblades on the other hand were a team made up of Miller, Kyle Stone, Brady Hefner, Bradley Hefner and Bobby Dringman, all of Billings, Jess Boss and Morgan Hefty of Manhattan, Dunk Abbott and Cullan Barry of Butte, Clay VanDiest and Matt Mohar of Helena, Jason Smith of Big Timber, Beau Milton of Joliet, Collin Jones and Luke Bing of Bozeman, Dylan Gamble and Taylor Hulslander of Whitefish Bill Boberg of Missoula and Trevor Achenbach of Columbus, all players who skate for their local associations and get together once a month to attend a tournament. "We were hoping to win it," Brandt Miller said. "I didn't think we would win for sure because there were a lot of teams and Montana isn't really on the hockey map at all. I went into it wanting to do the best I could and to work really hard. "I would say in my hockey career this was probably the biggest tournament I have ever been to," Miller added. "Just how many teams were in this tournament alone was amazing. To win it all was a dream come true." To top it off Miller ended the tournament as the Thunderblades' leading scorer and second-leading scorer in the tournament, helping his team to a 4-1 record with five goals and seven assists. The Thunderblades were put together six years ago, originating out of Bozeman. Miller played in their debut season, but spent the last five years playing with teams out of Canada before returning to play for the Havre Ice Hawks and Thunderblades this past spring and winter. While playing in Canada Miller spent four seasons playing for the Taber Golden Suns, a junior 2A team out of Alberta. And last year Miller played for the for the Medicine Hat Hockey Hounds, a AAA bantam team. Playing in Canada has given Miller opportunities that most 16-year-old hockey players in Montana could only dream of. Two years ago, his U14 team traveled to Europe for 28 days where he played in three world tournaments, one of which Miller was named tournament MVP. Miller has also played in the Czech Republic, Germany and Switzerland. "The first time I stepped on the ice I could skate," Miller said. "And probably my fourth or fifth year of playing hockey I really got into it and decided I was good and that it could be something I could do in my future. From then on, I had a deep desire to go big and I just had really big dreams after that." Miller's biggest fans are his family, and without them none of his journeys, tournaments or dreams would happen. Brandt's father Jim Miller never played hockey, but he has always loved the sport. Jim was born and raised in Odessa, Texas and his two best friends through high school and college played hockey, so the sport has always been apart of the Miller family. "It's just a sport we have always loved," Jim Miller said. "I was never afforded the opportunity to play. Growing up in Texas Friday night lights were always an option, but hockey was not. Unless you were extremely wealthy hockey wasn't an option." And now that Jim has the opportunity to support his son in something they share a love for, he too is ecstatic for Brandt's success. "It's enjoyable," Jim Miller said. "Even more so to watch him go from a young boy to adolescence, to living the dream. It has really been a testament in our house and to our faith. For him to realize the commitment and the sacrifices that we've made and for him to work as hard as he has, it's been very rewarding. A lot of times humans take for granted certain things and he hasn't done that yet, he understands where he comes from and what it takes to get where he wants to go. "My parents have driven thousands and thousands of miles for me," Brandt added. "And aside from that, the time and effort and money they have put into these teams has been amazing." Winning a national title may have been the most recent accomplishment for Brandt Miller, but it is just the tip of the iceberg. He is only 16 and is playing the highest level of hockey possible. Miller recently signed a letter of intent to play out the rest of his high school career in Michigan, away from his mom, dad and two brothers in Havre. Next year, Miller who is just finishing up his freshman year at Havre High School, will reside in Sault Sainte Marie, Mich., where he will play for the Soo Indians, a Midget AAA Hockey Club in the Northern Lakes Hockey League. The Soo Indians are a Tier I team and spots on a roster like this one are sparse in the United States. There are only two national leagues like this one in the U.S. and Miller is very privileged to have been invited to play. But the opportunities Miller has been fortunate enough to take part in haven't come at an easy price. He has worked for every chance he has got, and has been anchored by the support of his family. From a very young age Miller has lived on the ice. When he was four years old he skated for the first time, skating with the Great Falls Americans after a game. And by the time he was six, Miller was in pads playing organized hockey. Since then the last 10 years has been nothing but hard work. When he was in Canada he took full advantage of a rink that was never locked. Being home schooled he was up at 5 a.m. and done with his studies by 9 a.m. And from then on, Miller spent the rest of his day on the ice, sometimes not coming off until 8 p.m. or later. And when the rink wasn't close by, he still put in the effort needed to excel at the sport he loved. At one point Miller would travel 10 hours round trip to Calgary twice a week just for a two-hour practice. "It's taken countless hours," Miller said. "It's taken repetition in shooting, training on your core, cardio and going on runs. With how far away all these teams are that I have played for you have to keep yourself in shape. When I get there I have to be ready to play, we never get to do a lot of team stuff so I had to push myself." With his hard work and dedication to hockey Miller has opened the door for countless opportunities. Before his focus was on the Nation Hockey League, but now he knows the next step is college. He is looking at Boston College, and has even been in touch with them numerous times, but other options include Colorado College or even the Air Force where Miller would pursue being a pilot. "Even if the professionals aren't an option I still have a degree and can make a living off of that," Miller said.

 
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