Veteran hockey coach eager to turn over new Leafs
The Aspen Times
Jay Miller is eager to drop the puck to usher in a new era of hockey in Aspen.
Miller was introduced Wednesday as the new head coach of the Aspen Leafs Junior A hockey team, the newest addition to Aspen Junior Hockey.
He will lead the club into the inaugural season of the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League, where the Leafs will play against five other Junior A teams (age 20 and younger) from Colorado.
The Aspen Leafs Junior A team will open the 40-game season in early October with the first season’s games scheduled for the Aspen Ice Garden in downtown Aspen.
“In all honesty, I’m very excited to be here,” Miller said in his introductory press conference at the St. Regis. “In this environment, I believe I can build something here that can rival any program in the nation.”
Miller, widely recruited for Tier 1 and Tier 2 hockey coaching jobs in North America, opted for the Tier 3 Aspen Leafs program because of his belief in U20 junior hockey.
“I believe in this level of hockey,” he said, adding that the team will be geared to player advancement and development — including local Aspen hockey players.
“We want to give Aspen kids a path they have not had,” said Miller, most recently the head coach and general manager of the West Sound Warriors, a Tier-3 junior league club in the Pacific Northwest.
Miller’s West Sound team recently won the regular-season title and the Cascade Cup. A head coach for seven years in the Northern Pacific Hockey League, Miller amassed a record of 203-73 (.740).
“Yes, I have had some success in winning,” Miller said. “But if you concentrate solely on winning, you are missing the point of junior hockey.”
He said developing a team and developing players for college hockey or beyond is the bigger picture for the Aspen Leafs.
The key to developing the first-year program in Aspen will be recruiting, he said.
The team will start with about 40 players at a training camp in late August with an opening-day roster of 25.
The teams in the league will dress 20 players at each game.
“We want to recruit the right kids,” Miller said. “The team-building part is pretty simple when you do your due diligence with recruiting.”
He said the first-year roster in Aspen likely will include several players from Alaska, California and Colorado.
In addition, the team is allowed two international players.
Those likely will come from Russia, Miller said at Wednesday’s press conference.
The other major project in advance of the season, he said, is establishing host families in Aspen for the 25 players on the final roster.
“We want to make sure we get the right families involved,” Miller said, adding that the players will be directed to give back to the community in various ways, including working with the Aspen Junior Hockey youth players.
Miller, who grew up in Colorado, is an avid Colorado Avalanche fan: “I’m a diehard Avalanche fan.”
He also said he’s enjoying watching Tyler Johnson of Tampa Bay play in the Stanley Cup final against Chicago. Johnson formerly played against Miller’s teams in the Pacific Northwest Junior A league.
“This is an avenue for development,” said Shaun Hathaway, director of Aspen Junior Hockey and head of the new Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League. “It’s a chance for Aspen kids to stay at home and play hockey (after high school).”
Hathaway said that as a Tier 3 conference team, the players will pay to participate on the Aspen Leafs Junior A team.
“This is a pay-to-play project for us,” Hathaway said. “Players will come in, and they will pay a fee to play on the team.”
The other teams in the fledgling league are the Denver Thunderbirds, Monument Rampage, Colorado Springs Miners, Breckenridge Bucks and Grand Junction Glacier Yetis.
The Aspen Leafs will have 20 home games during the 2015-16 season, starting in October.