After battling injuries, Plum’s Miller relishes chance to finish high school career on the ice
Saturday, February 4, 2023 | 11:01 AM
Zach Miller hasn’t taken lightly the opportunity to suit up this year for the Plum varsity ice hockey team.
The Mustangs senior captain led the team in goals with 11 through a tough 5-2 loss to Indiana on Jan. 30. The day before, he was one of several area skaters to take part in the PIHL’s annual day of all-star games.
Miller now is healthy, too, after battling through injuries which took him off the ice and away from the game over the past two seasons.
Now, in the twilight of his high school career — Plum closes out its season with a game at Westmont Hilltop on Thursday and the home finale against Shaler on Feb. 27 — Miller hopes he can play his best hockey, both for himself and for his team.
“I am glad to finish my senior season on my terms,” Miller said. “It’s hard to believe that there are only a couple of games left. I want to make the most of it all.”
Every year, Plum plays in a preseason tournament, and during one of the games prior to the start of the 2021-22 season, Miller began to feel discomfort in his back.
“I really lost a lot of strength in my lower back, and I was wondering why,” Miller said. “I thought I might have pulled a muscle.”
Miller started the season and scored four goals and added two assists.
But as the early part of the season progressed, the pain got worse.
“It was about the fourth game of the season in late October or early November, and I couldn’t make it through half the game,” he said. “I was in too much pain. I just stopped playing.”
Miller saw an orthopedic doctor, and he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his lower back.
“It took forever to heal,” he said. “Whenever I thought I was OK to play, I would go back to get an X-ray, and I would find that the fracture was still there. It was healing gradually, but a lot slower than I thought it would. It was frustrating because I thought I would be able to come back.”
He didn’t play the remainder of the season.
“They let me go to physical therapy, but for two months, I was not allowed to pick up anything,” Miller said.
“I couldn’t do anything that would cause any strain. I was bored out of my mind for those months. Ultimately, doing what I was told helped me to recover finally.”
Additional physical therapy got Miller back healthy.
“I love to play this game, and not being able to play was really tough for me,” he said.
“But I was able to be there for every home game, and I tried to get to as many away games as I could. I just wanted to be there for my teammates. I just wanted to make the most of my junior year, knowing that I would have another chance as a senior.”
Despite fractured ribs which took him off the ice for a couple of weeks earlier this season, Miller has shined for Plum with the 11 goals over his 14 games.
“I was very fortunate it was only three weeks,” he said.
Miller was on fire at Fox Chapel on Oct. 17 with four goals in a 5-3 victory. That game marked the Foxes’ only loss through 17 games.
He scored twice against Wheeling Catholic on Jan. 9.
“I’ve loved every minute of spending time with my teammates and working hard to get wins,” said Miller, who also is a member of the Allegheny Badgers 18U A team.
“We’ve played really well in a number of games, but they just didn’t turn out in our favor. But I loved our fight. The injuries made me love the game even more because I got the chance to appreciate the smaller things that are involved in the game.”
The Mustangs, who have been eliminated from Class A playoff contention, were 3-12-0-1 heading to in a game against Freeport on Monday.
Plum coach Phil Mains said Miller’s leadership, in addition to his talent, has been a very valuable commodity.
“He’s had a fire in his eye throughout the season,” Mains said.
“He hasn’t taken the opportunity to play this year for granted. He’s really played well, and his determination has rubbed off on a lot of the younger players. He has senior night, too, and I am glad he gets the recognition he deserves along with his classmates.”
Miller said the all-star game experience was one he will never forget. He was on Team Gold for one of the two Class A games, and the contest with Team Blue ended in a 6-6 tie.
“It was a blast,” he said. “I got to play with and against some of my friends who I’ve played with throughout the years. The pace of the game is a lot of fun. The skill in the game is more than what you are used to. It was just an all-around great time.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .
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