Photo by Rena Laverty
After a tough Under-17 season with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, K’Andre Miller has realized just how much his game has grown.
The work he did to get better is showing on the ice as a member of the Under-18 team.
“I think the biggest thing is my development,” explained Miller, a 6-foot-3, 206-pound defenseman. “Whether it is in the workout room, or on the ice with the other guys, or just training every day, they are pushing me and I am pushing them. It’s that type of thing.
“Getting stronger was one of my big things over this past year. Over the summer, I worked really hard to put on additional muscle and weight knowing that we are playing college teams.”
The biggest item for the Minnetonka, Minnesota, native is the realization of just how much he has learned about himself, especially on the ice.
“I kind of get down on myself every once in a while, so I have found more confidence in myself over this last year,” he said. “This season, I have way more confidence going into games with the puck. I’m not really trying to rush my play — I’m way more confident.
“I only have been playing D for a few years now. I think the biggest thing is having great defensive coaches teaching me a little more about the position — where I should be and where my stick should be — those type of things. I use the other guys for help since they have been playing the position way longer than me. I always ask questions of them and they have done a great job helping me develop my game as a defenseman.”
On-ice drills are making a big difference for him. Specifically, 2-on-1 drills have helped improve his confidence in odd-man situations.
In addition, Miller has taken away one valuable lesson from U18 Head Coach Seth Appert. It is something small that sticks out with him every day.
“One of the things is that he really cares a lot of about players and he really hopes that everybody gives it their all every game,” explained Miller. “He is energetic and brings that to practices and games. I think that really bleeds through the team and it really gets everybody going.”
Miller and his U18 teammates will host the 2018 Under-18 Five Nations Tournament at USA Hockey Arena from Feb. 13-17. The Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden and Team USA will face off in round robin action. It will be a unique and fun experience for this team, who kick off action against Sweden on Feb. 13.
Miller believes that keeping it simple will be key to success.
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“Overseas, there is the time change, food and everything is a little different,” he said. “Being on home soil, we do not have to travel so we will have an advantage. Being at home, we want to have great crowds at the game and that will be fun to have them cheering for us.”
It’s extra special for Miller to play at his home rink.
“It’s amazing,” he stated. “Getting to put on the USA jersey and then play for your country in your own building, it’s unbelievable. You have fans from all over come in to watch your game, just because you are Team USA. I think that’s really special and a great opportunity for us to win that tournament.”
He understands what the U18s need to do to capture the tournament title. This also comes as important lesson he learned from the first international tournament where the squad finished with just one win.
“One of our biggest things is to treat every game as if it is our biggest game. Thinking that no team is better than the other. We have to bring our style of play to every game and stick to Coach Appert’s plans and drills.”
For Miller, one of his highlights was signing his National Letter of Intent to play hockey and continue his education at the University of Wisconsin in November.
“It’s amazing, getting to put on the USA jersey and then play for your country in your own building, it’s unbelievable.
“It was awesome,” he said. “It is something that I have wanted to do for a while. Finally getting to do that was a dream come true, knowing that I will be wearing that red and white with the big W crest. There is a great history at Wisconsin and a great coaching staff. I’m really happy I’m going there.”
His decision was easy given that he’d always wanted to play in the Big Ten, and the Wisconsin coaching staff is one of the best in American hockey.
“The biggest thing was the coaches,” Miller said. “They have done an unbelievable job in developing talent. They had six guys go one year in the NHL draft. With coach [Mark] Osiecki working with the D, and coach [Tony] Granato as the head coach, I think it will be a great experience there.”
Miller was able to showcase his talents when he played in the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo, New York, in late September. It gave him a good idea of what he still needs to do to improve his game.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “Getting to play with those 50 or so American hockey players who are getting drafted this year really showed me that I have to work hard every day just to separate myself from those others guys who have top-end talent. It was a great experience for me and really showed me a lot.”
Photo by Rena Laverty
Miller, who tallied one assist while playing for Team Chris Chelios, took home some important words of advice form the former University of Wisconsin and three-time Stanley Cup winner.
“Before the game, he knew that I had not started out the season the way I wanted to so he said, ‘Play your game,’” Miller said was Chelios’ advice. “You know what you can do and keep it simple and have fun. That is the biggest thing — you need to have fun — whether you are having a bad game or a good game, the bottom line is to have fun.”
For Miller, his hard work and dedication is paying off with his on-ice success.
And being able to do it in red, white and blue makes it even more special.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “Getting to play for Team USA, there is nothing like it. You cannot compare it to anything. Getting to wear that crest every day — in practice, in the workout room and all the stuff you get — it’s perfect. I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else for my experience.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.