Mitchell Miller was an unknown to the vast majority of the hockey world until this past week. He quickly went from unknown to a nobody, with perhaps zero chance of ever making right his abundant wrongs.
Now, at age 18, Miller is a pariah, cast off to the badlands of hockey, and society at large, for his actions as an adolescent jerk four years ago — the Coyotes renouncing his draft rights a mere three weeks after they selected him with the 111th pick.
On Tuesday of this past week, the Coyotes stated publicly that they were made aware of Miller’s mistakes prior to selecting him and that they drafted the ex-USHL defenseman with the idea that he would get a second chance in life. Miller indeed sent a letter to all 31 NHL teams prior to the draft, acknowledging his transgressions of 2016, which he also admitted that same year in juvenile court.
On Thursday, contending they learned more about his transgressions at age 14, thanks in large part to excellent, detailed reporting by the Arizona Republic, the Coyotes wiped Miller and his grotesque deeds off their hands. Per the Coyotes, they hadn’t been fully informed of what Miller did, and they were further concerned that he never apologized to the victim or the victim’s family.
OK, it’s easy, and certainly convenient, to side with the Coyotes on this one. Miller and a yet unnamed accomplice bullied and physically abused a disabled Black schoolmate, reportedly hectoring Isaiah Meyer-Crothers with the “n-word” and also forcing him to lick a lollipop that they previously swiped across a urinal.
It’s the lollipop transgression, obviously, that jumps out as repugnant and disgusting. The victim underwent testing for various diseases, including HIV and STDs, all of which, thankfully, proved negative. Which is not to be interpreted here as no-harm, no-foul, but simply to say that the horrendous story could have turned even worse.
Also, no telling what kind of lingering psychological impact such hazing can cause the victim. Sadly, reports of these sorts of grotesque assaults are not that uncommon. US high schools and college teams routinely over the years, especially in the 1980s and ’90s, have proven fertile ground for similar vulgar assaults and hazings.
The Meyer-Crothers family made it clear to the Arizona Republic that Miller never apologized to them for what he did, and that they felt further victimized or damaged by the team offering him a chance at NHL stardom.
Most of us, perhaps all of us, probably would feel the same, particularly if our son/victim were disabled. It doesn’t take much effort to tap in to the brutality and indecency behind Miller’s actions and his wanton disregard for human dignity. He acted like a punk, got caught, fessed up in court, and, according to the victim’s family, never told them he regretted it.
The mitigating factor here, and what troubles me in all this, is that Miller was only 14 at the time. He was an adolescent and he’s now paying a hefty, career-damaging, possibly career-ending price as an adult, in a North American society, by the way, that doesn’t boast an abundance of 18-year-old adults.
In a do-over, the Coyotes would have been wise to follow suit with the 30 other NHL teams with picks 1 through 110, and opted for someone other than Miller, a 5-foot-10-inch, righthanded-shooting defenseman, from Sylvania, Ohio. No franchise needs the headache, right? Especially a franchise with so little success and a history of risible management. These are sports franchises, not rehab clinics.
However, in renouncing Miller, the Coyotes only made a bad situation worse. Again, did they need the trouble? Absolutely not. But by kicking him out the door, they betrayed their initial instinct, which they framed as an opportunity to give a kid a second chance. In turn, they perpetuated and added to the price he paid.
For starters, the Coyotes could have stood by the kid, helped him craft a public apology to Isaiah and the Meyer-Crothers family. It’s anyone’s guess if that would have mollified them. I would find it hard to accept if it were my son. But then it’s on me, right? If sincere, an apology is the appropriate starting point. Too bad his own family or agent/adviser failed to make that happen.
In the end, the Coyotes essentially chose to apologize to their fans for selecting Miller, did a quick bleaching of their hands, and presto, now have every reason to think the stink will disappear faster than ice shavings under a Zamboni’s warm rinse.
Chances are that many of us would be eager to forget, or expunge, at least some of what we said or did at age 14. As embarrassing as those moments might have been, chances are equal that few of us did anything nearly as loathsome as the 14-year-old Miller. But once the Coyotes went there, and drafted him as a teammate, after he notified the entire league of his transgressions, it seems here they had the obligation at least to try to help him make things right, or at least better.
Maybe, in the end, there is no helping Miller. What he did at age 14 was vulgar and stupid. Perhaps he is beyond repair. But he needn’t have been broken even more by an NHL franchise that drafted him, hurriedly backed out to save face with its fanbase, and now has made it ever-harder for Miller to get a chance to redeem himself.
Double jeopardy via the draft. Miller did an awful thing, and the Coyotes only made the price more awful for him to pay.
Orr’s image may take hit
Bobby Orr’s half-page ad in support of Donald Trump, published in Friday’s New Hampshire Union Leader, was guaranteed to elicit a strong rebuke of arguably the game’s greatest player.
Trump is America’s most polarizing political figure in generations, possibly of all time, and Orr knew full well that his endorsement, with wife Peggy at his side in the stock “thumbs-up” photo next to the president, would shake down the thunder.
Longtime Canadian-based columnists Bruce Arthur (Toronto) and Jack Todd (Montreal) were particularly tough on Orr.
“If you’re a hockey fan of colour, if you are an LGBTQ hockey fan,” Arthur said during a podcast on Friday, “Bobby Orr probably lost you today.”
“Doesn’t matter how much an athlete is revered,” Todd wrote on Twitter. “If he or she backs Donald Trump, that’s it. Lifetime zero, never to be forgiven. This is a critical moment in history. Don’t be on the wrong side.”
Orr, 72, has every right to back whomever he sees fit in the upcoming election. Your faithful puck chronicler long stopped being surprised by anyone who identifies as a Trump supporter, even here in the deep blue Bay State.
What surprised me about Orr’s public, unabashed backing of Trump is not the endorsement itself, but that he had to realize the profound and unnecessary hit his image would take by making it.
To what net gain? Are there more Orr fans in total today than there were on Thursday? Absolutely not. For a long-loved icon so particular and fastidious about preserving his pristine image, Orr willingly set himself up to be derided by a massive anti-Trump contingent in the US, Canada, and around the world.
A very poor, misguided calculation, one that, whether Trump or wins or loses reelection, will remain with Orr forever.
From a hockey perspective, the most striking comment Orr made in the ad was that he labeled Trump “the kind of teammate I want.”
There is a long line of ex-Trump teammates, some of whom have been waltzed off to jail since he took over the Oval Office, who have been left permanently damaged by being on his team. Often, amid their transgressions, Trump disavowed knowing them or publicly humiliated them. A very curious choice as a teammate.
Bucyk’s hip now pain-free
John Bucyk is back home on the North Shore following his annual summer stay in bucolic Creston, British Columbia, and the Chief is pain-free for the first time in years after undergoing hip replacement surgery in May.
Bucyk, 85, carved his path to the Hall of Fame with his hands (556 goals, 1,369 points) and his hips, using the latter to wallop opponents with some of the most spectacular rear-over-teakettle checks in the game’s history.
“Had the surgery and everything is perfect — no pain, for a change,” noted Bucyk. “I can’t remember the last time I had a summer where I had no pain. Surgery was excellent, came through good.”
In his pre-surgery workup, said Bucyk, the medical team at Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport discovered his gallbladder was “shot,” leading him first to have it removed prior to getting his left hip repaired.
“I’m still a little wobbly,” said Bucyk, “because you lose your balance for a bit, but I got that back. I needed a cane for a while, but most of the time lately I’ve been walking around without it.”
His right hip remains in good working order.
“Maybe I was hitting everyone with my left hip,” kidded the Chief, who completed his Hall of Fame playing career in 1978. “Who knows?”
The only complication came some 48 hours post-surgery when he fell at home, dislodging the replaced hip joint, sending him back to the Anna Jaques to have ball and joint repositioned.
“They got it back in place,” he said, “and I haven’t had a bit of problem. No pain at all. I don’t know how many summers I went through with pain, always hurting, and now not a bit of pain. What a relief. And I’m ready to go back to work, whenever that happens.”
When the Garden reopens and the Bruins finally resume their NHL schedule, Bucyk plans to resume his duties as a team ambassador, visiting with guests in the luxury suites and the alumni box.
“Soon, I hope,” he said. “I’m getting bored as hell . . . can’t do anything, or go anywhere. It’s brutal.”
Forced to make other plans
Amid the Mitchell Miller kerfuffle this past week, the Coyotes assigned top forward prospect Jan Jenik (center, 6-1, 180) to a Finnish team, Kettera, on a COVID-19 loan.
Jenik, who tore up a knee (both MCL and ACL) at the most recent World Junior tourney last December/January, played the last two seasons at OHL Hamilton and could be headed back there in 2020-21. However, the OHL this past week pushed out the start of its season to Feb. 4, a date that must be considered aspirational given the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in Canada and many other countries, including the United States.
The Bruins were among the earliest adopters of the COVID-19 loan program, deciding in August to assign Jakub Lauko to HC Energie Karlovy Vary, some two hours from his hometown of Prague. Headed into weekend play, the 6-foot left winger (No. 77 pick in the 2018 draft) had yet to score a point in four games.
Lauko played 22 games with AHL Providence last season, cobbling together a 5-4—9 line.
Not much has gone right for the Coyotes of late. Jenik, when ready, could be a key addition to their sputtering offense. Prior to blowing out the knee, he played in 27 games with Hamilton and totaled 56 points — an eyepopping 2.07 points per game.
Jenik’s point average was second only to Marco Rossi (2.14), chosen No. 9 by the Wild in the recent draft and the OHL’s leading scorer with 120 points. The OHL’s No. 2 scorer, Cole Perfetti (No. 10, Winnipeg), clicked at 1.82 points per game, and No. 3 Connor McMichael (No. 25, Washington, 2019) produced 1.96 points per game.
Hit hard by Roy’s death
Joe Beninati, now 25 years in the Capitals’ broadcast booth, springboarded into his NHL career from his work with the Bruins, calling AHL games. He was on the mic for Maine Mariners games in the late 1980s, when young Travis Roy was perpetually dashing in and out of the room as a stickboy.
“I almost drove off the road,” said Beninati, recalling the night in October 1995 when his car radio delivered word that Roy was paralyzed in his debut with Boston University. “Super person. Super kid.”
Roy, 45, died on Thursday, following complications from two recent surgeries related to quality-of-life issues and his quadriplegia. Beninati recalled his countless interactions with Roy, the latter eager to fire tape balls at him in the Mariners' dressing room, testing Beninati’s old goalie skills from hockey and lacrosse.
“All of a sudden, we’d get into shootout competitions,” said Beninati. “I think about it now and the biggest smile comes to my face. He was good. He was really good. You could tell he was going to be a player.”
News of Roy’s death was an emotional blow for Beninati.
“I have to slow down,” he said somberly. “I was so sorry when I heard that on the ride home 25 years ago. I was so happy that he got his chance to D1, and was immensely proud of the man he became and all the things he did to help people … God love him, he was fantastic. I can’t help but cry now, thinking about him, because didn’t deserve what happened to him. Nobody would.”
Bruins No. 2 left winger Jake DeBrusk remained without a new contract as the weekend began, leaving him the lone restricted free agent on the varsity roster yet to settle financial terms with GM Don Sweeney. DeBrusk is without arbitration rights, unlike young Red Wings left winger Tyler Bertuzzi, who this past week was awarded a one-year, $3.5 million deal. Their production is nearly in lockstep: Bertuzzi: 199 games, 49-70—119; DeBrusk: 203 games, 62-58—120. DeBrusk’s cap hit last season was just below $865,000. A one-year deal without arbitration likely will net him around $2.5 million. A long-term deal (3-4 years) could bring him something akin to the four-year, $14.75 million deal struck by Matt Grzelcyk. Though, like Bertuzzi, Grzelcyk had arbitration rights as negotiating leverage. Bertuzzi had hoped for a boost to $4.25 million . . . The Central Scouting Bureau came out with its first rankings for the 2021 entry draft (June at the earliest), and four kids on the US National Team Development Program, including defenseman Luke Hughes (brother of Jack and Quinn) were among the 31 A-listers. The other USNTDP top guns included Chaz Lucius (F), Sasha Pastujov (F), and Roman Schmidt (D). The A-list also included four University of Michigan freshmen, including center Matthew Beniers, ex- of Hingham and Milton Academy. Beniers, who turns 18 this coming week, spent the last two seasons with the NTDP . . . Torey Krug and wife Melanie still live here in the Hub of Hockey, but recently zipped out to St. Louis for a brief house-hunting tour. The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford reported that Krug went out for beers with new Blues teammates Tyler Bozak, Robert Bortuzzo, David Perron, Colton Parayko, and Ryan O’Reilly. Local boy Patrick Maroon (consecutive Cups with the Blues and Lightning) also came along for a taste . . . The biggest unrestricted free agent deal of the offseason remains the $61.6 million the Golden Knights piled on ex-Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo to be their uber back liner. Annual cap hit: $8.8 million. Pietrangelo will receive more than half the contract’s value ($35 million) in signing bonuses. Meanwhile, the Knights are among eight teams now over the $81.5 million cap. All must be cap compliant by opening night of the new season. Here in the Hub, Sweeney has about a $6.6 million cushion, albeit with DeBrusk’s extension to take a substantial bite out of it.