Special to usahockey.com
By Mike Scandura
(left) Steve Miller begins his 14th year at Denver and his 17th season as a member of George Gwozdecky’s staff. He serves as the recruiting coordinator in addition to on-ice coaching, video breakdown and game analysis.
“One of my dreams was to be an NFL quarterback,” said Miller, who coached at USA Hockey festivals from 1994 through 2003 and who coached Team Rocky Mountain to a silver medal at the 2000 Select 17 Festival. “I also was interested in coaching. I loved the breakdown of games. The coaching aspect just intrigued me.”
But there was one small problem with Miller’s dream about becoming an NFL quarterback. He was small - in the literal sense.
“My sophomore year in high school I was 5-5 and 115 pounds,” said Miller. “I was about the same when I graduated high school. Football was my love growing up. But my dad (Tom) said I might want to take a look at some other things because 5-5 and 115 isn’t going to cut it.”
So much for the second coming of Fran Tarkenton or even Doug Flutie.
But fortunately for Miller, he also grew up following University of Wisconsin hockey.
“We were season-ticket holders for the Badgers,” said Miller. “Mark Johnson (think Miracle on Ice) was one of my favorite players while I was growing up, plus all the teams (current Denver head coach) George Gwozdecky played on.
“Going to those Badgers games gave us a great love for the sport of hockey.”
But because Sun Prairie lacked an indoor rink until Miller reached the seventh grade, his hockey was confined to various outdoor rinks as well the rink his father built in the back yard.
Miller also was fortunate in that he got an opportunity to play college hockey for St. Mary’s College in Winona, Minn., under the venerable Don Olson, where he helped lead the team to its first MIAC championship in 23 years.
Moreover, Olson and his late assistant, Tom Farren, fostered Miller’s interest in coaching.
“When I graduated (in 1988), Tom said ‘Do what you want to do and I’m here to help you,’” said Miller. “Don had an opening and he welcomed me onto his coaching staff (Miller handled the junior varsity team). I did that for three years and recruited.
“Without question, Tom and Don helped me grow.”
Miller’s next break came when he gained an opportunity to work on his master’s degree as a graduate assistant at Miami, where the head coach just happened to be Gwozdecky.
“When I got there, coach Gwozdecky welcomed me with open arms and said ‘You’re part of the team,’” related Miller. “To be part of that program he was building in the right direction was great. We went to the NCAA Tournament for the first time (in 1992-93). George and the people at Miami game me an opportunity to be part of something special and I was appreciative of that opportunity.”
Ditto when he was hired by Gwozdecky at Denver.
The rest, of course, is history, because the Pioneers won back-to-back NCAA championships in 2004 and 2005. And much of what Miller stresses at Denver harkens back to his days with USA Hockey.
“Like we tell our kids at Denver, you’ve got to play the game for each other,” said Miller. “You can’t play this game selfishly. You’ve got to play hard. You’ve got to be able to block shots and play smart. We can all work hard, but if I work hard and take five penalties, maybe I’m not playing smart.
“You can say play disciplined. But we want these guys to play for each other and play smart. It’s a great way to get guys back if they’re off kilter. You say ‘That’s not very smart’ or ‘You’re not playing intense or you’re not playing for your teammates.’
“Those are great statements to bring players back to common ground if they’re struggling.”
Miller has worked festivals for 15s, 16s and 17s and has noticed a distinct difference from one age group to another.
“The thing that strikes you as different is the kid who at 15 was OK, but now at 17 is a great player,” said Miller. “And we’ve all seen plenty of 15s who are great players because they’re physically dominant. But that 17 who dominated at 15 doesn’t have the brain to figure out how to get it done.
“He’s done it with physical strength for his entire career.”
Miller still has fond memories of the 2000 Team Rocky Mountain that featured, among others, current Pioneer Zach Blom (Englewood, Colo.).
“We got beat 8-4 by Team New England in the finals after beating Minnesota the day before,” he said. “It was a fun week. I was proud of the boys and the way they played for each other.”
Just like Miller preached at festivals and still does with the Pioneers.
Story courtesy of Red Line Editorial, Inc.