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Rookies Miller, Strome play out rivalry at MSG

by Tal Pinchevsky

NEW YORK -- Rookie forwards J.T. Miller of the New York Rangers and Ryan Strome of the New York Islanders don't really know each other. It just seems like they do.

The pair were taken 10 picks apart in the 2011 NHL Draft, Strome fifth and Miller 15th, and have spent much of their lives facing off on every conceivable stage: the Ontario Hockey League, under-17 World Hockey Challenge, IIHF World Under-18 Championship, and World Junior Championship. They last met three weeks ago in an American Hockey League game between Strome's Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Miller's Hartford Wolf Pack. Strome scored twice in Bridgeport's 3-2 win.

Friday at Madison Square Garden the pair will face off for the first time in an NHL game.

"It will be a little different. This game is a little different from the other levels we've played at," said Miller, who was called up Thursday by the Rangers after a two-game stint with Hartford. "We just know each other because we've played against each other for so many years, going back to U.S.-Canada games so many times with the national team."

The pair first met as children, when Miller's Pittsburgh-area peewee team occasionally would make the trek for tournaments in Toronto, where Strome grew up playing minor hockey. It wasn't long before the pair would face off again … and again.

Their most intense matchup may have come at the 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia. It was there Miller and the U.S. beat Strome and Canada 5-1 in the tournament semifinal before winning gold in the final against Sweden.

"Obviously that's a pretty competitive and electric atmosphere," Strome said. "That was pretty big. And the rivalry between Bridgeport and Hartford is pretty good too. I'm sure this is going to be a new level [Friday]. I think very highly of him. I think he's a pretty good player. I really like his game. Kind of cool to be playing against another guy my age. I don't think I've played against one yet. It's cool to see a guy you've seen a lot through the years."

But the transition to the NHL hasn't exactly been smooth for either player. Miller has one goal and two points in 17 games during his previous call-ups. Strome was leading the AHL in points when he was recalled by the Islanders on Dec. 11 but has yet to register a point in two NHL games.

"Each player is different. Sometimes a young player plays a couple of games up with the big team and then goes down. Every player learns at his pace," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "Sometimes you hope that it's quick, but sometimes that doesn't happen. It's just part of the process. It's just part of the development."

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