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Huskers hockey team hosts cancer awareness night in honor of former teammate

Posted at 6:22 PM, Jan 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-25 19:22:28-05

LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — The Nebraska hockey team is hosting its annual cancer awareness night against rival Creighton Friday in Lincoln.

The Huskers are wearing special uniforms, because Friday's game has special meaning. The game is played in honor of former team president Zach Miller.

Zach Miller was your typical sports-loving kid, he played multiple sports, but loved playing hockey.

"He loved hockey with a passion he always non-stop talked hockey and even though he did three other sports hockey came before all other sports," said Jacob Miller, Zach's younger brother.

After graduating Omaha Bryan High Schook, Zach went to the University of Nebraska and joined the club hockey team.

"Hard worker," said Nebraska Club Hockey Head Coach Larry Taylor. "He had a sense of attitude. He wasn't the best skater that we had on the ice but he put a lot of effort in to it."

The the plan was to wear number-nine but Miller switched to number 19 in honor of his favorite player Joe Sakic. Miller quickly rose through the ranks behind the scenes and was the club's president. Off the ice he was working at Lincoln East and wanted to get in to a career in education.

But a trip to the hospital changed everything.

"That was March 28 of 2011," said Tim Miller, Zach's father. "We thought Zach had mono. I ended up getting called in to the emergency room and the doctor told us he had leukemia."

Zach couldn't play anymore, but stayed around the program.

"He went about it the right way," Taylor said. "He worked hard until the end. Even though he wasn't on the ice he was with the team until the very end."

On January 25, 2015, Zach's battle ended.

"It was something that you never really want to hear when you're 17 years old and the bond we had between each other made me sink a bit," Jacob Miller said.

"We were sitting on the corner of 13 and O crying and holding each other for 30 minutes," Taylor said.

In his honor the Huskers started a cancer awareness night, wearing special jerseys with cancer ribbons and a number-19 patch. But the number-19 isn't retired in Lincoln. It's worn each day by Zach's little brother Jacob, and on the hat of his dad Tim, an assistant coach.

"I feel seeing his jersey up by our locker room and skating by it give me a larger passion to play each day," said Jacob Miller.

This year's game takes on a special meaning, halfway through the season Coach Taylor told the team he was diagnosed and is battling prostate cancer.

"I kept it from my family, I kept it from the players and when they got on the ice I told them and they had blank looks on their faces," Taylor said. "They were like wow."

"It was a very emotional day," said senior forward Corbin Smeal. "I remember being knelt down on the ice and he told us with a tear in his eye."

When the Huskers hit the ice Friday they'll don special sweaters, ith the number-19 patch and cancer ribbons, in honor of those battling the disease in the past, the present and the future.