When it comes to the Mitch Miller saga – and I sincerely hope this is the last time I write about it – it’s important to note that there is, has been and always will be only one victim in all of this. And that is a young man by the name of Isaiah Meyer-Crothers. For him to endure what he did at the hands of Miller and another boy and come out the other side is remarkable.
That being said, there have been a whole lot of people in the hockey world who failed Mitch Miller, the two most prominent being the Arizona Coyotes and the University of North Dakota, with USA Hockey running a close third. There are people out there who will rightly claim that this is the first time outside the courts that Miller has been held accountable for his actions and that consequences that are normally only felt by the victim are now finally coming to bear on the perpetrator. Regardless of what you think of Mitch Miller at the moment, he has lost an enormous amount. He had the dream of being drafted by an NHL team given to him, then taken away. The same goes for his spot on UND’s hockey team. What team is going to take him now and allow him to develop? As a fourth-round pick, the odds were always stacked against him ever actually playing in the NHL, but if he can’t find teammates and opponents to challenge him, it’s all but a fait accompli.
(It’s important to note, however, that the first year of Miller’s athletic scholarship will be honored by UND if he remains in school. Under NCAA guidelines, during the freshman year, UND must honor scholarship awards, unless there is serious misconduct during the period of the awards. If a student-athlete withdraws from UND or is not enrolled full-time, it is no longer honored.)
That’s a high price to pay for something he did four years ago. Is it too high? Well, when you don’t really show a lot of remorse for your actions, maybe not. And perhaps the reason Mitch Miller did not show remorse was that people in hockey kept making excuses for him and allowing him the privilege of playing for them because he was talented enough to make their teams better. They all knew – or should have known what Miller did – yet chose to have him on their teams. And we’re talking about top-level organizations such as Detroit Honeybaked, the USHL and the Sarnia Sting, who drafted him in 2017. USA Hockey has had Mitch Miller on three national teams over the past couple of years.
In announcing that Miller would no longer be part of the UND hockey program, university president Andrew Armacost said, “We expect our students to live by our values in the classroom, in the community and when representing the university on the field of play.” Fine. But if that’s the case, why offer him a spot on the hockey team in the first place? Nothing has changed with this situation from the time Miller committed to UND and now with the exception of the fact that the story made its way into the public domain. Miller committed to North Dakota more than two years ago when he was playing midget hockey, so it’s not as though the university didn’t have time to find out whether he represented its values. And for both UND and the Coyotes to bring Miller into their organization knowing his past without a clear plan to address his past is reprehensible. To throw Miller out like last week’s garbage when his past became public is even worse.
I’ve spoken to three current head scouts and one retired and not one of them would have picked Miller in the draft solely because of Miller’s past. One of them said he really dug in on Miller and spent hours of his time on calls with coaches and teammates who all had glowing things to say about the player. But he also interviewed Miller on more than one occasion specifically about the incident and that’s when he made the determination that Miller would be taken off their draft list. “I didn’t get the feeling there was remorse,” he said. “Now I’m not saying he’s a sociopath or psychopath, but basically he said, ‘Yeah, I did it. It was stupid, it was wrong.’ But it was more than that and you wanted to him say that he realized it was more than that.”
When the Coyotes took Miller, one scout who also decided to take Miller off his list, was surprised he went as high as he did, saying Arizona probably could have selected him lower in the draft. But he was also intrigued. “When they drafted Miller, the first thing I thought was that they had a plan,” the scout said. “I thought, ‘This is going to be interesting because there’s going to be some blowback.’ I thought, ‘They’re going to roll this in with the Hockey Diversity Alliance, they’re going to roll this in with what (Coyotes owner Alex) Meruelo and (team president Xavier) Gutierrez are doing. Wow, that gives them an advantage.’ And then nothing.”
Almost nothing good has come out of this situation. There are no winners. Not one. And as ugly as it was, there are parts of the hockey establishment that somehow managed to make it work. It turns out that recruiting and drafting Mitch Miller was a mistake. The Coyotes and North Dakota not having a plan of action, then turning their backs on him, was even worse.