International Ice Hockey Federation

WW Top 25 Stories: #22

WW Top 25 Stories: #22

Shannon Miller recruits Euros for NCAA

Published 14.03.2015 10:50 GMT+1 | Author Andrew Podnieks
WW Top 25 Stories: #22
From Team Canada coach to top recruiter of Europeans in the NCAA: Shannon Miller. Photo: Rick Stewart / Allsport / Getty Images
1998/99. Shannon Miller became head coach of Canada’s national women’s team for the 1997 Women’s Worlds.

After taking the team to a gold medal, she was confirmed as coach for the first Olympic participation a year later, but the U.S. stunned Canada to claim gold in Nagano.

At the end of the 1997/98 hockey season, however, Miller was hired to coach the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs women’s hockey team. The fledgling program started a year later, and 16 years on she remains its only coach and one of the most successful coaches in any sport in NCAA history, taking the Bulldogs to five national championships.

One of the keys to her success was her early recruitment of European players. Where all other NCAA teams consisted of a blend of Canadians and Americans, Miller realized she had to go outside of North America if she were to build a successful program.

“I’m at a disadvantage,” Miller explained, “because I moved from Canada to a Division II school, but we compete in hockey in Division I. I asked myself what could I do to make the team competitive against Big 10 teams. I had just been coaching the Canadian national team for seven years and had made lots of contacts in Europe, so I took some trips and recruited that way. Big profile schools can get anyone, but we can’t – we don’t have the funds. Bringing players from Europe is really my way to survive.”

Miller’s first coup was to bring Maria Rooth to UMD. “She contacted me,” Miller explained, “and after that it got a lot easier to bring players over. Usually, the players contact us, but I know most of them through their national teams.”

Continue reading

Rooth remains arguably the most important recruit in women’s hockey at the college level, the Borje Salming of NCAA, as it were. Rooth’s decision to leave Sweden and play in Minnesota led to Erika Holst’s decision to play at UMD as well, and the two were instrumental in Sweden’s “Mirakel” at the 2006 Olympics. The team’s shocking upset of the USA in a shootout of the semi-finals gave a European country its first berth in a women’s final, but Miller’s experience of that historic game is more than just the score.

“When the Swedes beat USA,” Miller related, “Maria’s mom called me from the arena crying, saying that Maria wouldn’t have been able to do this had she not come to Minnesota-Duluth.”

The goalie in that historic shootout win was Kim Martin, another Bulldogs star. “Kim came because of Maria and Erika,” Miller explained. “They went home after four years here, and they had helped us win three NCAA national championships. They learned everything from nutrition and diet to team building, mental training, and preparation. When they got home, they worked with their coach almost as assistant coaches. They had a lot of input, and the coaches relied on them.”

Since the success of Rooth and her Swedish teammates it has been common for many of the top NCAA schools to recruit women. Rooth was a top-10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award as NCAA MVP, and since her a long list of other Euros have distinguished themselves including Emma Laaksonen (FIN), Noora Raty (FIN) and Florence Schelling (SUI).

Miller’s pioneering efforts are still felt throughout the NCAA, and, by extension, throughout the European programs which have benefitted so significantly from having players develop at the college level.

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of women's hockey in the IIHF, writer Andrew Podnieks is counting down the top 25 stories in women's international hockey history. One story each day will appear until the Number 1 story is unveiled the morning of the gold-medal game of the 2015 Women's Worlds in Malmo, Sweden, on April 4.

Earlier Top 25 Stories:
#23: IIHF introduces junior event for women
#24: Zorn a goalie and skater both
#25: Russia-Switzerland a dandy display in 2011


Back to Overview