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Luke Miller shows true leadership on the ice

The grad student leads 49ers after battling harsh hockey culture

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Luke Miller shows true leadership on the ice

Luke Miller attempts to maneuver around a University of San Diego defender Saturday.

Luke Miller attempts to maneuver around a University of San Diego defender Saturday.

Austin Brumblay | Daily 49er

Luke Miller attempts to maneuver around a University of San Diego defender Saturday.

Austin Brumblay | Daily 49er

Austin Brumblay | Daily 49er

Luke Miller attempts to maneuver around a University of San Diego defender Saturday.

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When  Luke Miller arrived at preseason camp for his freshman season at Suffolk University, he wasn’t expected to make the starting lineup. When he stepped onto the ice for the first game of the season, everything went wrong;

He played terribly and was scratched for the next eight games.

“To start your college career like that is really tough on someone,” Miller said. “It was just a really bad time.”

Miller is now a forward and captain for the Long Beach State club hockey team and finally found his place after months of molding himself into the archetypal hockey player that his coach demanded.

The experience was an introduction to the cutthroat competitiveness that defines Suffolk hockey under head coach Chris Glionna. Miller spoke to Glionna about not playing and was told that if he wanted to be in the lineup, he should hurt guys in practice to reduce the competition ahead of him.

“From then on in practice I just beat up on my teammates,” Miller said. “Then I played almost every game second semester.”

Miller described a culture in which fights were commonplace during practice. The team was on the ice six days a week from October to March under the instruction of a coach who believed in making players better by imposing stress on them. Miller grew accustomed to the culture and earned his coach’s respect.

“Luke is a highly skilled hockey player,” Glionna said. “He always represented our program with great character.”  

At Long Beach, Miller has found a respite from the intense stress of Glionna’s program. He’s bought into the coaching philosophy behind the 49er club team.

“The coaches here really have the vision to be known as the best team in California and I’m hoping I can help them with that,” Miller said.  “With the team we have this year, I don’t see why we can’t win the national championship with ease.”

Miller feels an obligation to lead by example, something he hasn’t had the opportunity to do in his college career. Being the best player on a collegiate team is a new experience for him, and according to his coaches and, he fully embraces that responsibility.

“The players respect his skill and leadership on and off the ice, he’s a team leader all around,” LBSU associate head coach Sean Hoang said. “He’s the complete package.”

Miller led the team with 34 points last season. He is also the team leader this season so far with 10 points and 5 goals in just three games. Once an undersized freshman struggling for playing time in Boston, Miller has clearly found a home at LBSU.

“I’m bored as hell if I’m not playing hockey, and it’s actually harder for me to get my studies done when I’m not playing,” Miller said. “That little bit of relief being on the ice gives you the separation from school, work, life problems you’re having.”

The idea of Miller not knowing what to do with his time is hard to believe, because he fills his days with multiple side projects. He was successful in real estate while playing hockey in Boston. While earning his master’s at Long Beach, he took an internship that landed him a job offer from Boeing, which he is currently considering.

“One thing about Luke is when he sets a goal, he’s going to achieve it. It doesn’t matter what’s in his way or who tells him he can’t do it,” Luke’s mother, Carla Miller said.

Miller’s work ethic is a large part of why he returned to Southern California, as he worked through his credits so quickly that he finished at Suffolk a year early. He was left with three options: Go to Europe to play professional hockey, start his Master’s and finish his NCAA eligibility at Suffolk or earn his Master’s in California while playing club hockey.

“It all came down to my teacher telling me that if I wanted to get a job in California, then I should get my M.B.A. in California,” Miller said.

Miller also cited the low pay in professional leagues in Europe as a reason for not travelling overseas. He wanted to focus on landing a long-term job as opposed to a couple more years playing hockey. Long Beach was able to provide him with both.

One of his short term goals is to use his skill and position as captain to raise the quality of the 49er club hockey program.

“Being named captain this year, I am humbled to have the opportunity to make an impact that can be carried on by the underclassmen, much like the captains did for me at Suffolk,” Miller said.

You can catch Miller at the next home game 9:30 p.m. Friday at the Rinks in Lakewood.

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