Thursday, 21 November 2013

Shannon Miller’s 350th career NCAA win part of a remarkable year

While women like Digit Murphy and Katey Stone have carved remarkable legacies as coaches in NCAA women’s hockey, Shannon Miller reached a new milestone in autumn 2013 with the 350th win of her storied career as head coach of the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. In becoming the third coach in NCAA history to reach the plateau, her ability to recruit, motivate and surround herself with quality people is testament to her great legacy.

A 6-1 win over the rebuilding Connecticut Huskies supplied Miller with the historic triumph as a pair of power play goals by Jamie Kenyon set the tone early in the game. At 14:53 in the first, Ashleigh Brykaliuk would extend UMD’s lead to a 3-0 tally. Before the period would expire, Sarah MacDonnell would put the Huskies on the scoreboard.

Only one goal would be scored in the second period but it was a historic one. At the 10:28 mark of the second, Alivia Del Basso would log her first career NCAA goal, making her the first player from Australia to score a goal in the NCAA. Katherine McGovern and Bailey Wright would close out the scoring in the final frame. 

Of note, it was fitting that Del Basso's first goal would come during such a milestone event. With Miller having been the first NCAA coach to openly recruit from Europe (during the 2012-13 season, players from seven different countries suited up for the Bulldogs), Del Basso’s goal was testament to help grow the game internationally.

Regarding the international game, Miller would also serve as part of the IIHF’s Mentorship and Ambassadorship Program. As part of an effort to assist a handful of countries become more competitive, Miller was a coaching mentor to the Russian national hockey team. Miller was in the stands during the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championships in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada as the Russians claimed a silver medal.

The IIHF Worlds in Ottawa would also come to signify another memorable moment in 2013 for Miller. Having led Canada to a gold medal at the 1997 IIHF Worlds (and a silver medal at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games), Miller was part of a group of former Canadian players and coaches who were part of a special reunion in Ottawa. During the intermission of Canada’s game against Finland, Miller was among two dozen Hockey Canada alumni who were introduced to the fans.

Of greater importance was the fact that Angela James was also part of the group. Despite James’ release from the 1998 Nagano team, it created a wedge between Miller and James, becoming one of the most controversial events in Canadian hockey history. Seeing the two of them together in such a gathering was perhaps an important way to provide closure while moving forward.

With a hockey legacy that is unmatched, Miller has come a long way from her roots as a student at the University of Saskatchewan. Having helped spur the rebirth of the sport in the 1990’s, Miller is more than just a pioneer, but an integral part of the game’s history over the last two decades. Fans can only hope that once her hockey journey comes to its end, it shall do so with deserved membership in the Hockey Hall of Fame. 

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