KRIS MILLER
Talks to Peter Collins January 2000

YOU can forget breakfast cereal, Manchester Storm have their very own 'Special K' in 30-year-old blueliner Kris Miller, and it's all down to his parents Darrell and Elaine. "The 'K' family was definately mom's idea," he said: "I have two brothers, Keith and Kurt, and a sister Kim. We have a daughter called Kaitlyn and my brother Kurt has a son called Keegan and a little girl called her Leah. But that ticked mom off and she calls her 'little K'. See what I mean?"

After originally starting out as a figure skater (can't quite see 'Killer' Miller in lycra) 'Millzy' went on to captain his high school team, the Greenway Raiders, as well as winning back-to-back baseball championships. He was voted 'Mr Minnesota' - the best hockey player in the state - in his graduation year, which in turn earned him a place on the US Junior team that played in Moscow where his teammates included current NHLers Mike Modano, Jeremy Roenick, Matthew Schneider and Tony Amonte. Moving on to college he studied physical education at the University of Minnesota-Duluth (87-91) where he played in the NCAA (partnering former Storm favoutrite Dale Jago on the blueline for three seasons). The man himself now picks up the story: "I went to the LA Kings training camp in 1991, did pretty well and was signed to a 25-game tryout with their IHL affiliate the Phoenix Roadrunners. I did okay but we were a lousy team, I think we won five of those 25 games so there were changes and that's when I first came into contact with Kurt Kleinendorst. He was coaching the Raleigh Ice Caps in the ECHL and within a week of him contacing the Phoenix GM I was in North Carolina. "I did well for him and when the Salt Lake Golden Eagles (1992-93) asked if he could recommend a defenceman to them he gave them my name. He'd played for their coach, Bobby 'the cat' Francis, who now coaches the Phoenix Coyotes, and I signed a 25-gamer there and ended up staying the rest of the year. In the summer I went to the Calgary Flames camp, who were affiliated with Phoenix and they signed me to a two-way contract. I really thought I had a chance of making it into the NHL then but I tore ligaments in an exhibition game for the Flames and that was it. For the rest of the season (1993-94) Calgary sent me down to their new AHL affiliate, the Saint John Flames."

After a summer spent playing pro roller hockey with the RHI's San Diego Barracudas (again coached by KK) it was time to move on. "I knew I'd probably blown my chance with Calgary and during the summer I was approached by the coach of the newly formed Minnesota Moose. I had an option year with Saint John and so I asked to be released, which they did. I was losing a lot of money playing in Canada due to the exchange rate - I was getting payed in Canadian dollars - and in any case I thought a move back home would do me and my wife Dianna good." He spent the next two seasons (94-95 and 95-96) with the Moose and then in the summer of 1996 he finally got the chance to play alongside his brother Kurt. "He talked me into playing roller hockey again, this time in Glens Falls, up-state New York, for the Empire State Cobras and it was fun. The last time we played together was in high school. I played against him in Germany during our European training camp at the start of the 1998-99 season and I scored a powerplay goal against him and boy did I let him know!"

It was then that Coach Kleinendorst reappeared on the scene. "When I left Minnesota I had no calls, which was a huge kick in the teeth and I was really considering retirement. I mean I'd had two good seasons there - I was second when it came to +/- figures - but if you're on a poor team and you're not one of the top two players you're going nowhere, plus a lot of teams were folding. But Kurt called Donny Waddell, who was then coach of the Orlando Solar Bears in the IHL (now coach of the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers) and he gave me a tryout even though there was only two defensive slots left. I had a great camp, played in all their exhibition games and got a two-way deal, which meant straight away they sent me down to Raleigh. But as soon as I got there I was recalled because one of their defencemen had broke his leg - I had nothing to do with it, honest! I had a great time in Orlando and was part of the team that went 17 games unbeaten, which as far as I know is still the third best record of any professional team in North America - before us are the Peoria Rivermen and the Pittsburgh Penguins. But then the guy got healthy and I went back and forth between Orlando and Raleigh. "They offered me a one year deal but I was already flirting with coming to Britain. In fact during the play offs I was getting calls from my agent saying Manchester were interested, but I was still playing for a contract with Orlando. But the tape Manchester sent more or less sold the club to me, the facility, the fans standing up and cheering, I'd never seen anything like it before, I mean there were middle-aged people dancing, that doesn't happen at home. Then when the boss (KK) told me Manchester was where he was headed it sealed it."

Now in his third season with the Storm Kris added a Benson & Hedges Cup medal last month to the championship ring he won with the club last season, although he very nearly never made the B&H final. "I'd hurt by back in a game down in Bracknell and it really scared me. I'd landed on my tailbone and couldn't move my right leg and for a second I rememebered what had happened to Ruby the year before. I was in intense pain with it - a lump the size of a softball blew up in my back - and I never thought I'd make the final. But a few painkillers and a needle got me through the game and I'm glad I played, it meant a lot to me." With the EHL and Challenge Cup out of the way the team can now concentrate on retaining the SuperLeague title ("I cherish that ring, I wear it proudly") and Kris is as determined as the rest of the guys to make it become reality. "We'd had a tough week in pracice but we simply didn't show up agaisnt London last Sunday and if we are to win the league again we have to do a lot better. But we did get a point out of it and if we can get through this seven games in 11 nights our schedule should favour us because we have a lot of home games. Tonight will be hard because Ayr just hang in there and keep scoring goals, they never give up and it's not going to be easy."

Although he hopes to play a few more years yet Kris is already making provision for when he has to hang up his skates by taking exams back home to join the police, although he maintains the Minnesota force is nothing like that portrayed in the Coen Brothers movie, 'Fargo" "Oh come on," he said: "it's a good movie but it's so far-fetched. Okay, we talk a little slow and we might say "You betcha" once in a while, but it's nothing like in the film." Oh ya?

 

 

PETER COLLINS