Some say Kevan Miller, defenseman for the Boston Bruins and a Santa Clarita Valley native, hasn’t changed much since his days playing in California.
“I’m probably crazy for saying it, but I think he’s the same player as he was playing midget league hockey 10 years ago,” said Larry Bruyere, who coached Miller when he was playing with the West Valley Wolves in Panorama City.
“He’s bigger, stronger, faster and a lot more alert, but I can pick out his stride watching a game. Even without his number I know its Kevan.”
Not only has Miller maintained some physical nuances, but he also has kept ties with friends, family and coaches in California.
Almost immediately after the Bruins finished their game against the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 23, Miller visited with those who came to support him at Staples Center.
“It’s good to be able to come home and have a little bit of roots there and have a little bit of ties and see some people that I grew up with and played hockey with,” Miller said.
Miller played hockey and soccer at Canyon High until his junior year in 2006 when he made the decision to attend Berkshire Prep School in Sheffield, Massachusetts
The decision was as difficult as it was complicated. Not only was Miller moving away from home, but by the time he had made his decision to enroll at Brookshire, the varsity hockey team had already been selected.
He could still play for the school, but it would be for the junior varsity team.
“He really belonged on the varsity team and to put him on the JV hockey in an east coast prep school was like taking a step backwards,” Bruyere said.
Miller wasn’t deterred. He began to play for the JV team and eventually got called up to varsity temporarily to play in a Christmas tournament.
He performed well enough to keep his place on the squad and later became a team captain. Then he earned a scholarship to the University of Vermont and served as captain for his junior and senior seasons.
On Oct. 21, 2011, an undrafted Miller signed with Boston as a free agent and spent three years with the Bruins’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Providence Bruins. He played his first NHL game in the 2013-14 season, but didn’t earn a permanent spot in Boston until the next season.
“I think the biggest thing that I dealt with and that any athlete deals with is just battling through adversity,” Miller said. “Things aren’t always going to work out for you the way you want them to. It’s a long career and you’re not going to solve that problem overnight.
“So whatever that may be, hard work goes into it and then be able to develop through those times where things don’t go your way. Then come out on top. The more work you put in, the better off you are in the long run.”
The wait was worth it. He signed a four-year contract extension on May 24, 2016, and has come to fit the Boston mold perfectly, bringing a hard-nosed style of play and no fear of dropping the gloves when the time is right.
The blueliner has evolved into a walking argument against the typical California hockey player stereotype: surfboard-toting offensive players who can be skilled, but certainly not gritty.
“I’m not sure there’s too many guys that play the same style of game that I do that come from California, but it’s just doing whatever you can to help your team,” Miller said. “That was maybe something that I learned a lot as I grew up on the east coast, so maybe through high school or college (it’s) something that I kind of took on.”
Although he’s carved out a place in the pros, Miller comes back to the west coast over the summer to train and visit with family. He’s even helped out with SCV hockey teams, including West Ranch, which is part of the LA Kings High School Hockey League.
“It’s great,” Miller said. “It’s good to see some of the kids move along through travel programs or through the community and just trying to give back is my biggest thing.”
In his current season with the Bruins, Miller has nine points, 50 blocked shots and 84 hits, despite missing the first 19 games after suffering a hand injury, then an additional four games in January due to concussion protocol.
In his first game back after the concussion, Miller scored his first goal of the season. Because he’s still the same player he’s always been: the type that never cowers from adversity.
A Pennsylvania native, Haley Sawyer has covered sports across the country. She is a graduate of Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh and is the sports editor at The Signal.