Kelly Miller has been an integral part of Head Coach Tom Anastos’s effort to re-establish Michigan State as a college hockey powerhouse.  Miller, a former hockey stud, brings a wealth of playing, and a bit of coaching experience, to the Spartan coaching staff. Miller played four years at Michigan State, where he had a phenomenal senior season on a team that finished fourth in the NCAA tournament.

 

The forward then went on to have a fifteen year NHL career, which was highlighted by a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals with the Washington Capitals in 1998. Miller was brought onto the MSU staff by Anastos, a former classmate and teammate. Miller, entering his second year as an assistant coach, took time last month to talk to the media. He discussed topics such as his first year, recruiting, and the team itself. Miller’s main points are summarized below.

 

  • The first year on the job can be tough for any coach, in any sport. But Miller
    performed well last season, as did the rest of the coaching staff. “I
    think it was a good first year. We took a step in the right direction.”
    The former NHLer knew before last season that the key to success would be
    how well the players bought into the system. Miller was happy that the
    players embraced the coaches’ plan. “They bought it and they worked their
    tails off in practice. It was enjoyable to come to the rink and be with
    that group of kids. The results were just a direct corrolation to how hard
    they worked and what type of character kids they were.”

 

  • Miller felt that the staff did a great job of laying the foundation for the
    future. “We made some great strides in terms of creating the culture, the
    style of play, and the attention to detail that we want in our program.”
    But with nine seniors graduating, and Torey Krug departing for the Boston
    Bruins, much of last year’s team is gone. “That’s a big turnover, too big
    for us,” the assistant coach said. “So we tried, through our recruiting,
    to address some of that. The biggest challenge next year for us will be
    making sure that those young kids are [brought up] the proper way in terms
    of our style of play…and that they buy in.”

 

  • Recruiting in hockey, as is many other college sports, is constant. Though there are
    a few “dead periods,” coaches are thinking about recruiting all year. The
    process itself, the new college coach discovered, breaks down into two
    parts: identifying prospects and convincing them to choose Michigan State.
    Miller works closely with assistant coach Tom Newton and Anastos in the
    first step of the process. Miller has a leg up in this area because of his
    many connections. “The hockey community is a small community, a very tight
    community. It helps to know people from all over the country and all over
    Canada.” Once the coaching staff has targeted recruits, it has to persuade
    them that being a Spartan is special. The coaches have done a great job in
    this regard. “The thing we have going for us is that Michigan State, in a
    lot of ways, sells itself. It’s a beautiful campus and the people we have
    recruits meet with are always so passionate and upbeat about this
    university,” Miller said proudly. “Once we can get them [recruits] on
    campus and experience what this university is all about, we feel that we
    have a good chance to get them.”

 

  • The staff is always going after top-notch recruits in order to build a
    national championship program. So competition with the premier junior
    league, the OHL (Ontario Hockey League), comes with the territory. Since
    the top players are searching for a route to the NHL, the OHL glamorizes a
    fast path to the pros. “With the top kids, you are going to be constantly
    faced, even though they already may be here at school, with losing them to
    the OHL.” In his attempt to convince kids to choose the college route,
    Miller stresses that it allows for greater development, both in the rink
    and in the classroom. “That’s where, to me, going the college route is
    that much more beneficial for life after hockey…It gives you more time to
    mature than the junior route.”

 

  • Miller believes that the switch to the Big Ten will not affect recruiting.
    Michigan State has already been competing with top teams such as
    Minnesota, Michigan, and Ohio State for players, so the move won’t make
    much of an impact. But it could open up the door to some previously closed
    places. “It might give you an in-road to more Wisconsin or Minnesota kids
    because everybody is going to be in the same league. We are certainly
    taking a longer look at the Wisconsin and Minnesota areas, but not
    forgetting that really where we need to do a good job is here in Michigan.
    Michigan produces a tremendous amount of great players.”

 

  • Since the coaching staff wants the Spartan way to resemble the pro game’s, the
    coaches closely watch the NHL, especially during the postseason. “We’re
    constantly taking a look at the way we play in terms of how the NHL plays,
    because we want to mimic, as much as possible, the NHL’s style of play,”
    Miller said. “If there are any changes, we’ll make that to our game. For
    the most part, we’re very happy with the way our guys play. Last year our
    style of play was very exciting, very up-tempo. It was very NHL-relevant.
    That’s important to us and important to our recruits coming in.”

 

  • Miller spent a significant amount of time talking about the search for team
    leaders. An assistant captain of over a decade for the Washington
    Capitals, Miller knows a little bit about leadership. He said that the
    veterans need to guide the younger players. “We’ve got some upperclassmen
    who are really going to have to step forward and take that leadership role
    and embrace it. It’s not easy to be a leader, and whether you have a “C”
    or an “A” on your shirt doesn’t really matter. We need all kinds of
    leadership in that locker room.” Miller noted that the veterans need to
    show the newest Spartans the MSU way. “It’s going to be very important,
    from the day those guys [the incoming freshmen] step on campus, that the
    upperclassmen really are there for them, showing them our culture and the
    way we work out and our attention to detail every day, which is so
    important to our success.”

 

  • Miller was asked at one point if Goalie Will Yanakeff has to be a team leader
    next season. He responded: “We certainly need him to stop pucks. I think
    any time your goalie can stop pucks and do it on a regular basis, it gives
    your team confidence. Whether he’s quiet or not, that doesn’t really
    matter so much to us.” Miller noted that the goalie position is the
    toughest to play in hockey, and it will be even tougher for Yanakeff next
    year with the influx of new players. “He’ll have a lot of young defensemen
    around him, so he’s going to need to be strong. By him being strong and
    making big saves for us, he will give that group of young defensemen
    confidence.”

 

  • Ensuring that the green defensive corps believes in itself will be critical, so the
    more experienced group of forwards will also have to step up. “That group
    is going to have to do a good job of not allowing odd man rushes and
    [preventing] some situations that make it that much more difficult for our
    guys.” But the inexperienced defensemen will have one thing: size. As
    Miller said, “During the National Anthem, we’ll look great.”
Joe Ginley is the newest writer for the Spartan Nation website and magazine. He writes Spartans in the NFL and State of the Spartans among other articles. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio. Joe brings a great passion for sports and a great flexibility in writing skills.


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