by Caroline Greene || AHL On The Beat Archive
Everyone gets knocked down during their lifetime, from getting cut from your high school hockey team to being rejected by your top college choice. Whether literally or figuratively, getting knocked down is part of what makes life interesting and prepares us for the future.
While a universal occurrence, it is how one handles the experience that differentiates us from each other. Some dwell on their misfortune while others use the experience as motivation.
Perhaps, famed football coach Vince Lombardi put it best: “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get back up.”
Kevan Miller got back up.
When Miller was born in 1987 among a backdrop of palm trees, beaches and the blistering sun of Los Angeles, the most ice Californians saw was chilling their drinks and any skating was confined to skateboarding.
But a year later, the “Great One” Wayne Gretzky was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings, effectively giving L.A. its first celebrity not from the big screen. Gretzky’s arrival sparked a whirlwind of interest in the sport that had previously been largely relegated to the East Coast and Canada.
Miller was introduced to street hockey when a new family moved into his neighborhood. He decided to try ice hockey a year later; with Gretzky’s arrival, rinks began to pop up all over L.A.
Quintessential to typical L.A., Miller spent countless hours in the car traveling to practices and games for the West Valley Wolves, the L.A. Junior Kings, and the Ventura Mariners.
There comes a time in every adolescent hockey player’s life when a decision is made, either voluntarily or involuntarily. Some will move on to elite leagues, teams or programs in hopes of attracting colleges or professional teams, while others will end their careers in high school, only occasionally lacing up the skates in men’s leagues.
Quickly becoming one of the more dominant players in the California hockey system, Miller, like many other adolescent hockey players, came to the point where he needed to decide the best route to further his career: junior hockey or prep school. Following the guidance of his peewee hockey coach and the urging of his parents, Miller made the cross-country move to Sheffield, Mass., to attend Berkshire School.
Miller traded glamorous L.A. for the woods of Western Massachusetts. He made a cross-country journey in hopes of bettering his athletic and academic prowess, only to be cut from varsity. At that moment, many would consider going home or transferring to another prep school.
“You definitely question, ‘Do I go to juniors or go back [to California]?’” said Miller. “But they (Berkshire) really urged me to come back and try it.”
Miller took it as an opportunity to prove that he could play at the varsity level. His competitiveness and desire to win in JV earned him a call-up when a defenseman on the varsity team got injured.
The coaches took notice of his skill and work ethic and Miller became a staple on Berkshire’s blue line during his senior season.
Later, during a post-graduate year at Berkshire, Miller began getting the attention of several Division I schools, such as Colorado College and Northeastern, but it was a trip to the University of Vermont that solidified where the next part of Miller’s journey would bring him.
“I went to UVM for a Friday night game versus Boston College and the place was packed and they won, so after that I was pretty sold.”
Just a four-hour drive and two years removed from his time on the junior varsity squad at Berkshire, Miller made the transition to Division I college hockey. However, much like his move from California to Berkshire, Miller had to work to prove himself worthy of a spot in the lineup.
“When I went into UVM we had four D-men that year too, so we were battling to try to get into the lineup,” he reflected of the transition. “As soon as I made that jump, I kind of battled throughout my career there so I could play at the next level.”
His hard work paid off, as Miller was the only freshman to play in all 39 of the Catamounts’ games and tied for second among freshmen in scoring en route to being named the team’s rookie of the year.
The rugged defenseman finished his college career with 30 points in 144 games and a trip to the NCAA West Regional in 2010.
Undrafted, it wasn’t guaranteed that Miller would continue to play after his final game as a Catamount. He had attended the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks summer camps during college, but teams didn’t bite, leaving Miller without a contract and uncertainty on the future of his hockey career.
Miller made his professional debut with the Providence Bruins on Mar. 25, 2011, after signing an amateur tryout agreement with the club following his final game for UVM, and played six games for the P-Bruins. He went into the summer as a free agent, uncertain where he would be come September.
Impressed with his college play and his brief stint in Providence, the Boston Bruins invited Miller to their training camp in September. In a tight race for limited roster spots, Miller was released, but signed to an AHL contract by Providence on Sept. 22. The ink was barely dry on his AHL contract when Miller’s hard work landed him another step closer to the ultimate goal of every hockey player: making it to The Show.
Nearly seven months to the day after he signed his tryout agreement with the P-Bruins, Miller was signed to a two-year NHL contract by Boston in October. In his first five games of 2011-12, Miller tallied two assists and established himself as a solid, physical presence on Providence’s blue line.
“It was a dream come true, obviously. It’s one step closer to my goal of playing in the National Hockey League,” said Miller of signing the NHL contract. “I was extremely happy to get an AHL contract and then to earn my way to an NHL contract was great.”
Boston’s front office shared a belief that Miller’s parents had instilled in him when he was young: you have to earn everything you get. It’s a sentiment that Miller carries with him in everything he does.
“It’s been the story of my career, which I don’t mind,” Miller said. “I think I am a better person and player because of it.”