Monday, February 14, 2011

Warren Miller

Warren Miller was one of hundreds - even thousands - of unheralded role players in National Hockey League history. He went about his job with a great deal of effort but little fanfare.

"I know what my job is" said Miller. "I'm not known as a scorer, but if I get the ice time, I'll get 20 goals or so. Plus I'll do the other things."

Those other things were what Miller did most. A honest NHL laborer, Miller was best known for checking the opposition, either by shadowing his man or by applying a determined forecheck. He worked doggedly to get the puck away from the opposition, only to fire into the opposition's zone and then quickly change on the fly, so that a more offensive player could retrieve it and hopefully create a scoring opportunity.

Miller was selected by the New York Rangers in the 1974 NHL entry draft. He wasn't much of a prospect at that time, as suggested by his 21st round, 241st overall selection. Miller opted to stay at the University of Minnesota rather than take his chances at the pro level. That turned out to be the best thing Warren Miller ever did for his hockey career, as he blossomed over the next three years, as he aided his squad to 2 NCAA championships, and one runner up!

In the spring of 1976 he opted to join the Calgary Cowboys of the WHA rather than the Rangers. He spent three seasons in the rebel league, bouncing around with Calgary, Edmonton, and Quebec before finally finding his niche with the New England Whalers.

Unfortunately for Miller, the WHA collapsed following that 1978-79 season. The Whalers joined the NHL but most of their players were dispersed back to teams that originally owned their NHL rights. Miller finally moved to New York City.

His stay in New York was not a good one.

"(It) was really a wasted year for me," he said. "I was disappointed in my ice time. I'd get the odd shift here and there, but that was about it. When you're used like that, people become skeptical."

In the off season the Whalers, led by coach Don Blackburn, inquired about his services. They came to an agreement that saw an undisclosed amount of cash go to the Big Apple in exchange for Miller.

"Warren Miller is golden," exclaimed an elated Blackburn at the time. "He can play for me any day. We can always find a spot for a player like him."

Despite not being used much in New York, Miller made a good impression on his coach, the legendary Fred Shero.

"I was talking to Freddie Shero one time about Miller," continued Blackburn. "He said that there were days that he didn't feel like going to practice. That the team was down and so was he. But there was one guy he could count on, one guy who would always be going, even in practice. Miller, Freddie said. Just watching him work made Shero's whole day!"

Miller was equally happy to return to Hartford, and be reunited with Blackburn.

"Blackie has always shown a lot of confidence in me. That helps quite a bit. I think that management wanted me to get at least 20 goals. I knew I could if got to play." Miller said.

And that's exactly what happened. Miller got to play regularly on the Whalers third line, which was generally a checking line. He also was a regular on the penalty killer unit. With the extra ice time Miller scored 22 goals and a like number of assists in 77 games. 3 of Miller's goals came in one game against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Miller gave a lot credit for his success to coach Blackburn, but also to his hockey gloves.

"I found an old pair of gloves at the practice rink. They're torn and loose, but they feel great. I think that I'm handling the puck better, I mean, I can feel the stick in my hands."

Miller finished that 1980-81 season with a strong performance at the World Championships, as his Whalers missed the playoffs. Miller scored 3 goals and 5 points, as he utilized his speed on the bigger ice surface to perfection.

The 1981-82 season started off with great promise for Miller. He was named to Team USA at the second Canada Cup tournament. He continued his great work ethic, and was rewarded with 2 goals there.

But back in Hartford, things were not looking as bright. Coach Blackburn was fired late in the previous season. How would a new coach alter Miller's ice time? Larry Pleau answered that question by reducing it unfortunately, and Miller's production slipped. He still played in 74 games and was a regular, but he scored only 10 goals and 22 points.

That was a tough year for Miller, but nowhere near as tough as 1982-83 would prove to be. He struggle with his confidence all year long. He was in and out of the lineup, and ended up scoring just 1 goal and 10 assists in 56 contests. That proved to be Miller's last season in the National Hockey League.

While the flashy players always get the headlines, its the hard working skaters who do the "other things" that are the soul of hockey. Skaters like Warren Miller.

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