Aren Miller said so long to his bloated statistics Friday night in the Arena.
The Spokane Chiefs goaltender swept away all 24 shots by the Prince Goerge Cougars to record his first shutout of the young Western Hockey League season in a 5-0 Chiefs victory.
A 19-year-old second-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings, Miller came in with a 5.04 goals-against average and an .821 saves percentage after two shaky outings.
He’ll take a much better set of numbers to Tri-City tonight, where he and the Chiefs (2-1) meet the Americans.
Defenseman Perry Johnson will sit tonight in coach Mike Babcock’s rotation of his four 20-year-olds. Only three can play on a given night.
Miller got more than enough firepower from center Greg Leeb, who came in tied for 14th in the league in scoring. Leeb will climb the ladder after a four-point night that included two goals - the second on a breakaway with the Chiefs skating short-handed - and a pair of assists.
Leeb ran his three-game total to 9 points.
The Chiefs ran the show from beginning to end before 5,819.
“We had some chances early in the game to score a couple goals but Miller stopped us,” Prince George coach Ed Dempsey said. “Spokane took over from there. If you look at their second and third goals it was a case of them winning the one-on-ones at the opportune times.”
Rookie Brandin Cote and veteran Marian Cisar got the second-period goals Dempsey referred to, after Leeb put the Chiefs up 1-0 in the first.
With the crowd beginning to boo the Chiefs’ power-play unit for its ineffective puck-handling in the first period, Leeb and Ty Jones worked a nifty 2-on-1 off the left boards, Leeb taking Jones’ centering pass in the low slot and burying the shot.
Cote, showing why the Chiefs made him a first-round pick in the bantam draft, scored his first WHL goal. The 16-year-old forward bounced a shot off goalie Scott Meyers, darted through the crease for the rebound and swept it past Meyers, who couldn’t go pipe to pipe fast enough.
Cisar’s second goal of the season with 2:12 left in the second put the Chiefs up 3-0. With the Cougars missing star defenseman Eric Brewer (charley horse) and standout right wing Jarrett Smith (thumb), and with Miller tough in goal, the game was over by then, although the Chiefs weren’t through.
Jones scored six minutes into the third on the power play before Leeb took off on the breakaway. Kyle Rossiter was in the penalty box at the time for slashing when Leeb broke free to beat Myers with a backhand.
“I saw the puck go off the glass,” Leeb said, “and when I looked up I didn’t see any black jerseys. I just went for it at that point. Myers was a little ways out and I made my move.”
Miller’s effort was appreciated by a team that had to score seven goals to win by one on opening night.
“Miller played big and squared up, just how we expect him to play,” Babcock said.
“The first two games I played like I was 5-9, 150,” said the 6-3, 200-pound Miller.
Miller also played the puck well enough to get credit for the second assist on Leeb’s breakaway. “In our first two games I was getting caught back in my net and some of the passes going from behind the net out front were beating me by a hair,” he said. “In the second period, Brad (Ference) got hit and the puck jumped out front. The guy (Prince George’s Adam Loncan) was alone. In the first two games a play like that would have meant a goal. Tonight it hits me or gets a piece of somebody and goes wide.
“If you get out, play big and challenge them, you take away a lot of the net.”
The Chiefs’ Johnson will be joined in street clothes tonight by teammate Marc Brown, who took an elbow to the head. , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
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