Colorado youth hockey alum, Littleton native Miller finds NCAA D-I dream commitment with St. Thomas
Coming from a hockey family, Littleton native Cole Miller says the game “has been pretty much all I have ever known.”
Miller’s father, Steve Miller, is currently coaching with NCAA Division I Ohio State University and has also been behind the bench at Miami, Denver and Providence, as well as with several United States national junior teams and serving in an administrative role at Air Force.
Starting with the 2023-24 season, Cole will join the Division I ranks when he begins his career at the University of St. Thomas, a longtime Division III school that made the move to D-I this season.
“UST was a school that I always had in the back of my head because I thought it would be a pretty cool place to play,” Miller said after recently committing to the CCHA school. “Coach (Rico) Blasi gave me a call in November, starting the recruitment process, and both of his assistants came to back-to-back games in Waterloo to watch. I talked to both of the assistants after the game and from just one conversation, I could tell they had a lot of knowledge and passion for the game, so we stayed in touch. Then I went on my official visit back in January and I fell in love with the school and the opportunity to play for a new program and having a chance to build something special, so that really sold me on the school.
“Committing to play Division I is a dream come true. Ever since I was younger, I always wanted to play college hockey and being around it so much when I was younger definitely influenced my love for the game and my dream to play at that level.”
Miller added that there are many factors that led to his decision to play for the Tommies.
“I think the opportunity that UST has is very appealing to me as a player and as a student,” said Miller. “It is a new D-I team, so there is a chance to help build a culture and a program. Also, with the new rink that is going to be built in a couple years, it will be really cool to be the first team to ever play in it. Another huge thing is it is in Minnesota, and you really can’t beat that. Everyone in Minnesota bleeds hockey, so you know you will have support from the community right from the start.
“On the academic side of things, it has a good reputation for being a great school that I believe I will be able to succeed in and it’s somewhere that could help set me up for my future. I am still unsure about my major, but I am leaning into the field of business. I have decided that I want to be as physically ready as possible for college hockey, so I am going to take another year of juniors after this year and be a freshman for the ‘23-24 season.”
This season with the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede, Miller has compiled two goals and nine points from the blue line. He was drafted by the Stampede in the 14th round (199th overall) of Phase II of the 2021 USHL Draft.
“Some goals and expectations for the rest of the season in Sioux Falls are to make a push for a playoff spot as a team,” Miller said. “We are right outside looking in, and we are trying to make a big push to get in. Some personal goals are to keep trying to get better every day so I can perform my best in games and prepare myself for college hockey.”
Making the jump to the USHL from AAA hockey a season ago in Ohio has been an adjustment, but one that Miller has faced head-on and found his way into the lineup on a consistent basis.
“I had attended Stampede main camps in the past and ended up getting drafted by them this past summer, so that definitely helped a lot,” said Miller. “Went to main camp and thought I did enough to make it through to preseason and had one mindset in preseason and that was try to outwork guys. Coming from AAA, the speed and skill was something that I was still trying to get under my belt, so I realized I couldn’t out-skill guys but knew I could out-work some guys. This team has helped me prepare for college with a good coaching staff that cares and has a huge knowledge for the game. I try to learn something new every day and it has definitely helped me better myself every day.
“Also, there are some more experienced defenseman such as Cal Thomas and Max Rud that I sit next to in the locker room and just try to get every ounce of knowledge out of them that I can. Having those guys around has been huge because I look to them as mentors and they have really helped me along the way. This league has helped me prepare for college because it is such a high level. Coming from AAA was a huge adjustment and practicing at this level every day really adjusted me and helped me evolve as a player. Everyone here is skilled, can skate and has a good brain, so when you are practicing and playing at that high of level, it really helps prepare you for a future in college hockey.”
Back in Colorado, Miller started his career playing for the Foothills Flyers.
“They helped me a lot becoming a hockey player and helped me with my fundamentals,” Miller said.
After his second year of Squirts, Miller started playing for the Colorado Thunderbirds and played with names such as Aidan Thompson, Cole Mickel, Dylan Peterson, and Peter Lajoy. He played for the Thunderbirds from 11U to 13U and then wasn’t selected for the 14U team before making his way to the Colorado Rampage for 14U and 15U.
“Some coaches that made a big impact on my career in Colorado were Jason Nefs (Foothills Flyers), Matt Frick (Colorado Thunderbirds), and Shawn Kurulak (Colorado Rampage),” said Miller.
Having a hockey-wise father has always been a benefit for Miller and he has always taken to heart all the advice his father has passed along to him over the years.
“Ever since I can remember, hockey has always been huge in our family,” Miller said. “We always went to the DU games when we were little and went to some of the pregame skates. There was always ice we could skate on and going into the locker room trying the goalie pads on was always a highlight of my childhood and something I will never forget. From a young age, I always remember my dad telling me stuff about what I need to do better, and he pushed me to be the best I could be right from the start. When I was little, I dreaded getting in the car after a game I didn’t play good in because I knew I was going to hear about everything I did wrong. Looking back on it now, it is kind of funny because he was helping me so much and I didn’t even know it.
“Right when I got around the age 15, I started embracing all the feedback and realizing how much it was helping me as a player. Even though I am away from home now, I still call my dad after every game because I know he watches every game, and he is still giving me feedback that helps me every day. I am very lucky to have a great hockey mind like that just one phone call away and it has benefited me a ton. We are always breaking down film over FaceTime and he sends me clips every day that really help me out.
“My dad has been a huge influence and role model for my career and especially as a person. I would not be where I am at today without him.”
— Matt Mackinder
(February 23, 2022)