Hockey a passion for Oregon’s Miller

J. Patrick Eaken

If you want to check out a good brand of hockey next year, watch a Toledo Cherokees Junior A hockey game at the Toledo Ice House on Alexis Road.

Many of the players, ages 17-20, go on to play collegiately or professionally, and a ticket to a game is affordable.

“It is cheap — I think it is $5 to $7 to get in and it is a really good brand of hockey and the kids play because they love the game,” said Cherokees coach Kenny Miller, an Oregon resident who led the team to a 33-9-1-1 season and the U.S. Premier Division national championships in Hampton Rhodes, Virginia.

“They have got to play to pay, so they are obviously doing it because they want to get better, and they want to move on to college and want to better themselves in life. It is a fun atmosphere. We are playing in front of 500, 600 people some nights. I think we have a good following and people enjoy themselves when they come out and watch us.”

In an online letter to his players, Miller wrote, “You showed up every day and worked hard during the week and you were rewarded by winning 33 games this year. I hope that your time on the team has not only made you a better player but taught you lessons as a person as well.”

Miller has been head coach of the Cherokees eight years, but he has played, coached and been around the game his entire life. Taking over the Cherokees just fit into his family lifestyle.

“I like it. It is fun, but time consuming because I work full time on top of coaching. My dad was one of three owners of the ice rink before he passed away, and so we’ve always been in the business. Ever since the Ice House opened back up, the family has been tied to it,” Miller said.

“Back when he was alive, he asked me to coach it, and I just took it over and been doing it ever since. I’ve had the same two assistant coaches — I’ve had the one the whole eight years since I’ve been there, and the newer one came on two years ago and he is the one who basically does all the recruiting and built the team for us. He’s a huge reason why we had success this year.”

Miller says putting together a team each year is a year-round process, but it paid off this year.

“We scored a lot of goals and we were fortunate to have good players — we did a good job recruiting guys who could play, and the other thing was we had a really good goaltender this year. I would say our goaltender Joey Comier (Brownstone, Michigan) was probably our MVP of the season.”

Caleb Williams, a 2018 Genoa graduate and the team’s assistant captain, says he can see why the Cherokees recruit well.

“We get treated really well. I think we get treated better than most other teams, especially in our division,” Williams said. “We have an equipment manager and the coaching staff does a really good job preparing us for games all week in practice. We are pretty much on the ice five days of the week, including three practices, two games every week. It gets a little exhausting, but it is worth it because it is hockey. It is what I love to do.”

Williams adds that he believes coach Miller is a big reason the Cherokees are successful.

“He is a great coach. As a group in whole, if you follow his game plan and you stick with it — he knows how to beat every team in that division because he’s been coaching against those teams for some years now, so he knows how to beat every team,” Williams said. 

“He is really good at preparing us knowing what that team is going to bring and how to be ready to play against them. He’s got a great hockey mind. He knows the game really well. He has definitely taught me and made me a better player during my career.”

The team captain, Bryce Davis of Elmore, started playing hockey at age 4, playing with teams out of Sylvania and Toledo and he has been with the Cherokees organization for years, playing with the younger age group teams. 

“It is kind of like home for me,” Davis said. “I’ve been playing there seven years. It is fast and heavy and really exciting.”

Williams had a slightly different introduction to hockey.

“Actually, I started skating when I was 6, did a full year of that then started playing at 7. Some people consider that a late start in hockey, which is kind of crazy,” Williams said. “Most kids that play hockey, their dads played usually, so their dad taught them at a young age. No one in my family has ever played hockey. It was me — I just picked it up at a young age. One day I saw a pair of skates at a kid’s store, and I got one, so my mom bought them, and that is how I fell in love with hockey.”

Davis and Williams say they play for the love of the game.

“It is exciting, it is fast paced, and you don’t always have time to think so you just have to go with it,” Davis said.

Williams added, “I love the speed of the game and how it is different than most other sports with the shifts. You know, you are out there for 45 seconds to give it your all, and you go off and then the next group goes out. It’s just the speed and physicality of the game. It is like the perfect mixture and that is what keeps me playing.

“It is fast and you always have to make decisions really quickly or it will be too late and they will take the puck right off you, or you will get hit. You just always have to be ready and just know the next play you want to make ahead of time because if not, then you are easy to defend against. I think the intensity level gets really high. 

“At nationals, I think that was probably the most intense hockey I have played in my whole career just how bad every 20-year-old wanted it, knowing it is your last year of juniors at 20. Everybody wants to have the perfect ending to their junior career with a championship. It gets really intense.”
















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