Before Zach and Dylan Mills could take the ice as teammates again, they first had to take a road trip together.
Zach had left clothes behind in Bonnyville, Alberta, in anticipation of playing another season of junior hockey in Canada. But then the Minnesota Wilderness came calling and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
The Wilderness chose the brothers from Cottage Grove, Minnesota, in the North American Hockey League Draft, creating the chance for them to play together for the first time since 2015. That was when Zach, then a senior captain, finished his high school career with Hill-Murray School in Maplewood, Minnesota, a team that also included Dylan, then a freshman.
“After high school, when we played that last game, we just kind of looked at each other,” Zach said. “We knew it would probably be our last together.”
Then, the improbable happened.
When the Wilderness made a move in the NAHL Draft, they made it possible for Zach to play with his younger — and bigger — brother at least one more time.
“We knew,” Zach said. “We just can’t pass this up. We saw that opportunity and thought, there’ll be nothing better than that.”
The brothers took a friend along for the drive and made the summer round trip to Alberta and back to retrieve Zach’s personal belongings.
Now, it’s time for Zach to move again. He leaves after a year with the Wilderness hoping that the brotherly combination may have a chance to reunite in college, and also grateful for the time they had playing together.
“It was pretty cool being able to live with my brother — being away from home, but still together,” Zach said.
The Mills brothers settled with a billet family in Duluth, about a 2.5-hour drive from home but near the Wilderness’ home rink in Cloquet, and went to work on the ice.
Zach led the Wilderness in scoring, helping propel the 32-22-2-4 team into the playoffs. Although Minnesota was eliminated in a five-game Central Division final, Zach was the leading scorer in the Robertson Cup playoffs heading into this weekend’s final four.
While Zach, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound, 20-year-old, showed off his finesse, Dylan, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound, 17-year-old, brought more power to his play.
Coach Tim Madsen even sometimes chose to combine those skills on the same line.
Zach led the team with 22 goals in the regular season while sharing the lead in points (48) and plus-minus (+14).
Dylan was the team leader with six power-play goals and was fifth in total goals with 14 while also adding 15 assists.
In the playoffs, Zach put together three straight games where he had at least a goal and an assist. It was a big step up from the start of the season when, coming off shoulder surgery, it took nine games for him to produce his first point.
Zach is hoping enough scouts noticed his improvement to the degree that it opens up opportunities for his next step — perhaps even one, like the decision to attend the private Hill-Murray School, that his brother might want to follow.
“I’m still hoping to possibly get a Division I scholarship,” said Zach, who plans to major in biology and continue into graduate school for physical therapy. “If not, I’m going to go to the best Division III school that fits what I want to do after hockey.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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