TRAVERSE CITY, Mich.
-- Don't think for a second that New York Rangers
prospect J.T. Miller
doesn't know who his opposing coach will be when his club battles the Buffalo Sabres
on Wednesday in the championship game of the Traverse City Prospects Tournament.
"Yeah, that's Ron Rolston, my coach for two years at the NTDP (National Team Development Program)," Miller told NHL.com
The most decorated head coach in NTDP history left after seven years to become the coach of the Rochester Americans, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres
, in July. He's coaching Buffalo's prospects in the tournament this week. The Rangers and Sabres will square of in the tournament final here at Center ICE Arena at 7 p.m. ET.
Rolston guided his teams to five medals and multiple tournament championships in international competition. He is the only coach in U.S. history to win three gold medals in the Under-18 World Championship (2005, 2009, 2011). His team also captured a silver medal in the 2007 U18 World Championship. Rolston's teams never missed a championship game in either of the two major NTDP tournaments -- the World U18 Championship and the World U17 Hockey Challenge.
Miller, who was drafted 15th overall by the Rangers in June, knows his team will have their work cut out for them.
"It's going to be great playing against him … it's about time," Miller said. "He's taught me a lot that I know, so I'm going to use what he taught me against him and hopefully it works out. I'm sure he has some really tough defensive systems up his sleeve, so it should be a good game."
The Rangers won their only other trip to the Traverse City championship game in 2007, defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets
, 5-1, behind the play of Artem Anisimov
, Brandon Dubinsky
, Michael Sauer
, and Marc Staal
. This is the first year Buffalo is competing in Traverse City.
Miller, who passed on a scholarship to the University of North Dakota to sign with the Ontario Hockey League's Plymouth Whalers for the 2011-12 season, skated in 48 games with the USNTDP U18 team this past season. He produced 11 goals, 37 points and 80 penalty minutes.
"He's a really good hockey player, a lot of tools and a bright future," Rolston praised. "He's come a long way in the two years I had him as far as maturity. This will be his next step, getting with an organization and working with their leadership to continue his maturity and development. He's strong and can skate, plays hard. The Rangers have a lot there to work with."
Miller, from East Palestine, Ohio, led Team USA in scoring with 13 points in six tournament contests en route to capturing the gold medal at the 2011 U18 World Junior Championship in Germany. He tied for third among all tournament skaters in points, fourth in assists (9), sixth in goals (4), and seventh with a plus-8 rating.
In addition to Miller, the Rangers' prospects have been led by defensemen Tim Erixon
(1 goal, 3 assists), Dylan McIlrath
and Samuel Noreau
and forwards Shane McColgan
(2 goals, 2 assists), Ryan Bourque
(3 goals), Christian Thomas
(1 goal, 3 assists), Blake Parlett
(5 assists) and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault
(2 goals, 3 assists). Goalies Jason Missiaen
(1-0-1, 2.94 goals-against average, .898 save percentage) and Scott Stajcer
(1-0-0, 2.00 GAA, .929 save percentage) have performed well.
The 6-1, 200-pound Miller appeared in 95 career games over two seasons in the United States Hockey League with the USNTDP, registering 26 goals and 42 assists for 68 points, along with 159 penalty minutes.
"I think the pace (of the tournament) is great and the physicality that goes with it just takes it to a whole new level," Miller said. "I'm just trying to get used to it every game and trying to play more consistent. It's a tough game and you just can't beat yourself up too much and just get right back at it on the next shift. I'm trying to work on that."
Miller was asked what he anticipates from the Rolston-coached Sabres.
"A hard-nosed hockey game," he said. "They'll do their jobs and be responsible all over the ice. You have to play your role under Rolston … that's what he taught me over the years."
The Sabres have been led on offense by the triumphant top-line trio of Marcus Foligno
(1 goals, 2 assists), Luke Adam
(2 goals) and Zack Kassian
(3 assists). Defensively, Brayden McNabb
and Mark Pysyk
have excelled. Nathan Lieuwen
(1-1-0, 4.00 GAA, .862 save percentage) and Ryan Rondeau
(1-0-0, 3.00 GAA, .885 save percentage) have split goaltending duty.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale