Shannon Miller, who has coached women’s hockey at the NCAA and Olympic levels, has been inducted into the 2021 Class of the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in the Builders category.
Miller had coaching influences from a young age, growing up in Tisdale, Sask., in a house of teachers and coaches. Her dad coached basketball, football and track and field.
Miller played university hockey for the first ever University of Saskatchewan Huskies as a centre, earning the nickname ‘Killer Miller.’
Her professional career would start with the Calgary Police Service, an occupation that also allowed Miller to coach at the same time.
Then at the young age of 33, Miller was named head coach of the Canadian Women’s Hockey Olympic Team in 1998. She was the only female in the world, at the time, that was a head coach at the Games.
“Not only was I young, but I was out, I was openly gay, so it was a remarkable time in my life, it was also a difficult time in my life. And I had an awesome experience. It’s the young women that you coach and the people that you work with, that make the experience good or bad for you,” said Miller.
Miller spent 17 years coaching at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, 15 of which were at the NCAA level. In that time, Miller guided the team to five NCAA National Championships, second all-time in the sport, behind only Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota, who are tied for the lead with six apiece.
Miller’s coaching philosophy is one of welcoming and acceptance.
“For me, the foundation needed to be open, honest and accepting, and build an environment where the young women could come and it wouldn’t matter what country they’re from or their ethnicity or if they were gay or straight, none of it mattered. It was just come here, be safe and we will build this together,” she said.
The five national championships came with five different visits to the White House spanning both the Bush and Obama administrations.
“George Bush was pretty funny. We were standing behind him and he was talking to the audience which was mostly media. He turned around and he said to me, ‘You know Shannon, you’re a great coach and it’s really nice that your country let us borrow you for a while,’ so I thought that was really cool, giving Canada a little credit,” she said.
Miller’s current role is as vice-president of branding and community relations for the Oak View Group, which can be better described as a community ambassador for the game of hockey in the Coachella Valley of California. This job also has ties to the National Hockey League, as it involves working with the Coachella Valley Firebirds, who will be the AHL Affiliate of the Seattle Kraken, starting next season.
Miller’s coaching roots will come in handy over the next months. From January to April, she will be teaching the game of street hockey to California youth.
“We are going to have somewhere between four and 6,000 kids playing street hockey by April. Most of these kids have never played hockey before; some of them have played street hockey, most of them haven’t,” she said.
Miller is honoured to have been inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame, and knows that she owes a lot of her success to her Saskatchewan upbringing.
“To be able to leave Saskatchewan and go out into the world and be a police officer, be an Olympic coach, now being in the men’s professional hockey world, you always look back to your roots and how did I get here? And you try to stick to that, that has to be your core, your foundation, your north star,” she said.