Matt Miller may be the only player from northeast Indiana skating in Division I college hockey next season. It's a testament to a lot of hard work, on and off the ice, and time spent commuting to practices and games throughout his youth and junior careers.
For Miller, 20, it's just what had to be done.
“I've just always been in love with the game, and if you have a goal in mind, you do anything to achieve it,” said Miller, who graduated after his junior year at Leo. “I made lots of friends who are older than me, and younger than me, so when you know people who have the same desire, you get together and train in the summers and it's been really good.”
Among Miller's training partners in the offseason at SportONE/Parkview Icehouse are Wolcottville native Karch Bachman, who was a senior this season for Miami (Ohio) and the National College Hockey Conference's winner of its Senior Scholar Athlete award, and Fort Wayne native Jackson Leef, who played the last two seasons with the ECHL's Brampton Beast.
Miller, a right wing, is poised to begin his college career at Nebraska Omaha next season.
“They're a great school, and I really felt comfortable with the coaches there,” Miller said. “They're in a good conference, the NCHC, and play schools like Denver, Minnesota-Duluth and Miami of Ohio, so it was just all-around that part of it (that made the Mavericks my choice) and they have a school I felt comfortable with and nice facilities.
“I know a few guys that I have roomed in juniors with and they'll be going in next season, too, so I'm excited about that.”
Miller and other incoming freshmen had planned to go to Omaha this summer to work on their games. Like almost all other hockey players in the U.S., Miller is under a stay-at-home order because of the coronavirus, so he's unable to skate right now and he's unsure how the virus will affect his summer plans.
Miller is coming off a strong season in the United States Hockey League – the highest-level U.S.-based junior league – as he had 13 goals and 30 points in 47 games for the Lincoln (Nebraska) Stars.
“Our team did pretty well,” said Miller, who was an alternate captain. “We finished the season in fifth place (in our conference at 23-20-5), which would have been a playoff spot. But unfortunately, our season got cut short a month and the playoffs after that (because of COVID-19), so it was tough but with everything going on now it's understandable.”
Miller grew up playing youth hockey in Fort Wayne – he'd been a member of the Fort Wayne Komets AA team – and he upped his level of play when he was 15 by commuting to Canton, Michigan, to play for Victory Honda. His success there over three seasons, which included some time with U.S. national teams, led to him being drafted into the USHL.
He played for Sioux City (Iowa) for three seasons, totaling 20 goals and 40 points in 126 games, and he was an alternate captain for the Musketeers before he was traded to Lincoln last year.
“I really watched a lot of video this year,” he said. “The mental side of the game is what I was working pretty heavily on. Also, I was working on puck possession and puck poise, making plays with the puck and being around the puck a lot more. I was being put in all situations this year. ... I also worked on just the right positioning and studying video pretty heavily, making sure my positioning is always correct.”
Miller has good size – he's 6-foot-2, 195 pounds – and continues to develop his ability to use it. Among people he's worked with locally are skating coach John Salway and performance coach Paul Zinchenko.
“(My size) definitely helps me on the ice,” Miller said. “I consider myself a pretty good skater, too, so with those attributes, I can stay over pucks and get to the hard areas of the ice pretty well.”
With all the years spent traveling and working on his game, he's relishing a bit of time away from the ice right now, but he's continuing to work on his strength, conditioning, stick-handling and shooting at home.
“Once things start settling down, and once rinks start opening back up and everything, I'll get some ice time,” Miller said, “and get back to our training group with my friends.”