Kevan Miller can traverse stairs, tie his shoes and pull on his jeans like he used to.
This represents progress.
After four knee surgeries in the last 14 months, Miller doesn’t know when he will run again, much less return to the ice. He no longer circles dates on his calendar. He has no contract beyond this season. He does not want updates from his agent, Peter Fish, on any negotiation with the Bruins.
“I don’t really want to deal with that right now,” the defenseman said. “I just want to focus on getting healthy.”
Speaking on a Wednesday call with Boston reporters, Miller said it “means the world to me” to be the Boston nominee for the NHL’s Masterton Trophy, given for perseverance and dedication to hockey. He was chosen by the local Professional Hockey Writers’ Association chapter for his grueling, season-long rehab on a right kneecap twice broken in April and May of last year. Because of what general manager Don Sweeney has termed “setbacks,” Miller has several times found himself back at square one.
“It’s taken a toll, for sure,” said Miller, who last played on April 4, 2019. “When you have an injury and it persists this long, it takes a toll between the ears.”
Miller was speaking from Colorado, where he had two of his surgeries under Vail-based doctor Matt Provenchar. His family, including two young children, decamped west for the pause because rehab and training facilities were open, while Boston’s were closed. He expects to remain there indefinitely, with hopes he regains strength and stability in his knee.
“Hockey’s a very unique sport,” he mused. “We’re super quad-dominant athletes. We put a lot of force down on the ice on a small piece of blade, through each leg as you skate. There’s a lot more to it than being able to walk around.”
Undrafted out of Vermont, Miller was not considered an NHL-caliber skater. His toughness and physicality earned him a shot. He climbed the ladder, from an AHL contract to an NHL contract to a role as a third-pair defenseman on a winning team.
One longtime Bruins observer commented that Miller’s career recalls that of Gord Kluzak, the first pick in the 1982 draft, who was out of hockey at age 27 after a series of knee injuries. Kluzak had a sweet finish, helping the Bruins reach the 1988 Stanley Cup Final after he sat out two of the previous three seasons.
Miller is not guaranteed such a moment.
“At this point … I want to be able to function normally,” he said. “That’s step one. I’m getting back to that. Step two is to be able to do some things off the ice I was able to do before. Then get 100 percent off the ice, and once I’m able to cross that bridge, at that point I’ll be able to put the skates back on and hopefully be able to go out and perform like I was able to. That’s my hope and my goal. I wake up every morning trying to get to that point.”
Has he ever thought of giving up?
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried that hey, I don’t know how this is going to end up,” he said. “That’s part of my job. I want to be healthy. I want to play. I know I can help the team. It’s a tough pill to swallow when you’re showing up to the rink and you can’t help the guys and it’s been so long since you’ve been able to play a game.
“I’m not losing hope on that at all. If anything, it’s pushed me to push more.”
Expressing his views
Off the ice, Miller is a visible advocate for police, the military and first responders. He wears clothing that shows support, counts military members among his close friends and pondered a non-hockey career with the Navy Seals.
This is a time of widespread protest over police brutality, following the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Several of his teammates have been outspoken about their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, including captain Zdeno Chara, who attended a protest on June 5 in Brookline, and Patrice Bergeron, who donated $50,000 to racial justice causes.
Miller, in a now-deleted Instagram post on June 2, captioned a black square for “Blackout Tuesday” with “blacklivesmatter bluelivesmatter alllivesmatter.”
Asked by a Globe reporter for his view of the last few weeks, Miller gave a long, reflective response that expressed his disgust over Floyd’s death, his support for nonviolent protesters and his backing of law enforcement.
“I think first and foremost, I stand firmly behind my teammates, the organization, the statements they’ve made — the courageous statements they’ve made,” he said. “I think everybody loves to hear and loves to see that there is a conversation that needs to be had and there is some change that needs to happen.”
Miller called the widely shared video of then-officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, “disgusting to watch.” He then said it was “unfortunate” that it became a “divisive issue.” In Miller’s view, protesters taking a “you’re either with us or against us” stance and “rioting” won’t help advance the cause of equality.
“I think the protests are necessary, it’s part of our First Amendment rights, it’s right there in the Constitution,” he said. “I think the majority of people who are protesting are doing it in a very good way, and it’s unfortunate that some of those protests have turned into riots and clouded what happened.
“And that’s what’s frustrating, that 99.99 percent of people are all on the same page. They saw that and said, this is wrong, and we should all use this as a rallying cry to come together. I think it’s unfortunately gone the other way. In my opinion it’s become a divisive issue, where it should be one where it brings everyone together.
“As far as the military and police and first-responder support goes, I don’t view, in my opinion, I don’t view one life as more meaningful than another. I think what happened to Mr. Floyd, like I said, was terrible. Then you see some of the acts that happened afterward, where you see police officers and citizens being killed during some of these riots.
“Race aside, I think the value of life and love for people and love for your neighbor and one another needs to go up. And that’s just my view.
“It’s almost strange for me nowadays, that you can’t say one thing and be on both sides. You can’t say ‘I support Black Lives Matter and I also support the police,’ and not be on one side. I think that that is wrong.
“I think people are mad and I understand that. They have the right to be mad. And I’m mad. A lot of people saw [Floyd’s death], and they’re just, it’s not OK. I think it needs to be, it should have been, I wish it would have been, a rallying cry for real change in one direction, rather than saying, ‘You’re either with us or against us.’ I just think it’s unfortunate.
“I believe in the American spirit, and I believe that people truly care about one another. I think in some time, it’s going to cause some really good change. Not just in our sport, but throughout the country. I’m looking forward to seeing brighter days to come.”