It was a few simple things that started a lifetime love of hockey for K’Andre Miller.
“I started skating when I was two,” explained Miller. “My uncle [Ken] started teaching me and I fell in love with the game. My uncle was a hockey player for a little bit. He didn’t get very far but he taught me the game.”
“Once I had a hockey stick in my hand, I just loved it. I started with shinny off ice and then, I started playing with a couple of school friends.
Then, there was a second little thing that occurred when he was at a hockey game that only furthered his love of the game and of course, his passion for his hometown Minnesota Wild.
“Mikko Koivu, who plays for the Wild, was a great role model to me,” explained Miller on his experience. “I had a birthday down in Dallas and I got to see him after the game. Ever since then, it’s been a great experience to watch where he has become today.
“I went back to Minnesota and the next time I went to a game, he saw me in the stands and waved me down and gave me his stick. It was awesome.”
It should be no surprise that it was a simple decision in the end on playing the sport.
“My most fun was having friends that loved doing the same thing that I started to like. I thought it was really easy to join in the game and have the same passion,” he said.
Watching the 6-foot-3, 192-pounder on the ice, it’s hard to believe that he only started playing defense two years ago when he was back home in Hopkins, Minnesota.
“I was a forward my whole life,” explained Miller. “I started playing D two years ago. My coach back in Minnesota, he was looking for an extra guy to build a team. He wanted to know if I wanted to try it for a few games. I ended up liking it a lot and was able to get up in the rush.
It was a difficult transition at times to the U.S. National Team Development Program for Miller; however, he is finding ways to improve all aspects of the game.
“It was really hard at first,” he explained. “One of the things that I liked most about being a defenseman is that I still get to rush the puck. I can use my offensive ability to be a fourth forward.
“I had to use my size, speed and vision to my advantage. These guys are way older than us and more experienced. They are good players. The hardest thing was trying to keep up with them.”
He credits the Under-17 coaching staff and the training in helping him make gains this season. There is one thing that he has noticed that has helped him with his game and that is watching video.
“Coach Luongo has been really good with the defensemen on teaching us a little more about the position and giving us a good guideline on how to make it to the next level,” remarked Miller, who has three goals and 13 points in 39 games. “Mostly it is showing us what we can’t see behind us when we watch video. There are plays that get screwed up or do not go the way we want it to go. We watch video to break it down and see what we can do better or see what the coaches are seeing.”
One of his favorite memories was from mid-December when Miller and his U17 teammates captured the Four Nations title in Switzerland. The squad beat Slovakia (4-2) and Russia (4-1) before falling in overtime to Switzerland (4-3).
“My favorite memory was going to Switzerland,” he stated. “We won that tournament and it was one of our top moments. Winning that trophy showed us what type of team we can be in the future. We bonded as a team there.
“Beating Russia was one of my favorite games. We outplayed them.”
One thing that never gets old for Miller is standing at the blueline, wearing the jersey and hearing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“To have that USA crest on your jersey is awesome. Looking up at the flag and really understanding what that really means, night in and night out is incredible,” he explained. “The biggest thing is seeing the competition from other parts of the world and knowing that maybe if you are the best in the U.S., is that there is always going to be someone better in a different country or a different state. That is one thing I really realized when I was coming here to the NTDP.”
Miller and his teammates are gearing up to host Chicago (Feb. 17) and Youngstown (Feb. 18) at USA Hockey Arena. The U17s are coming off a second-place finish at their final international tournament, the Five Nations in the Czech Republic. He knows the lessons this team has learned from international play can carry over into the rest of the season.
“We need to stick to our game plan and realize that losing a game doesn’t mean we are out of the tournament, it just means we have to come back and work that much harder to beat the other teams,” he remarked.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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