A FEW MINUTES WITH... SHANNON MILLER
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Now in her 14th season behind the bench at UMD, head coach Shannon Miller owns the second most wins by an NCAA Division I women’s coach in history, with an overall record of 334-103-35. Miller trails only Harvard coach Katy Stone, who has compiled a record of 378-164-32 in 18 seasons. While the wins may keep the statistic junkies happy, it’s the NCAA titles that keep Miller hungry, and she has five -- the most of any other NCAA women’s hockey head coach past or present. Miller recently spent some time with umdbulldogs.com to give her outlook on what her squad has in store this year.
This is your 14th season here at UMD and in fact, you are just 30 games shy of coaching your 500th collegiate hockey game. What do you feel you know now that you didn’t know in say, season three and four?
I feel like my first three or four seasons here at UMD I was learning a lot about coaching, and two aspects of coaching. One, coaching in the United States at the college level because it was my first three of four years of actually doing that. Secondly, it was my first professional coaching job where I was coaching every day because when I lived in Canada, even when I coached the national team, I was working as a police officer and I was only a full-time coach the Olympic year. So I learnt a tremendous amount in my first three of four years coaching for a living, a tremendous amount. Obviously I’m a veteran now, a seasoned coach and I guess I just know a lot more about a lot of things, whether it’s x’s and o’s, psychology of coaching, dealing with young female athletes, just absolutely everything, and I still have so much more to learn.
Parity in women’s hockey has vastly improved, and nowhere as evident as the grueling WCHA. UMD was picked by the coaches to finish fourth this season. Do you agree with that assessment by your peers? What does your squad need to do to earn a top-three finish?
I love the fact that the parity in women’s hockey has improved so much, and I love the fact that we play in the toughest league in the country. There is no question that the top-four teams in our league are arguably the top four teams in the country, and if not top-four, then certainly top-six. There is just no way to debate that we would be in the top-six teams in the country. Being picked to finish fourth this season in the league, I do agree that that is where we will certainly start based on paper and obviously we would like to finish higher than that. The things that we’ve got to do to get better and get out of that fourth spot in the WCHA is going to be absolutely everything. We have freshmen goalies and they have an awful lot to learn, it’s going to be a difficult year for them in this tough, tough league. Our defensemen are going to have a lot to learn this year, although we have more depth back there this year. Our defensemen are going to have to get better at defending the rush and then we’ve got to get better offensively. The last couple of seasons we haven’t scored as many goals as we have typically have in the past, and we just have to have a little more intensity and be willing to pay the price a little more to put the puck in the back of the net.
Audrey Cournoyer really had a breakout season last year in terms of offensive production. Who are you thinking can ramp up their game this year and take on a larger share of the scoring load?
Audrey Cournoyer really stepped it up last year; she obviously really enjoyed playing with Haley Irwin and Jenna McParland, but she produced. She produced because she worked and she’s a very talented player and she’s very smart but the key to her success last year and her offensive production was work ethic. I expect the same and better from her this year, and kids like Jenna McParland have to step it up offensively as well. In fact, Jenna could arguably be our best player if she wanted to be. She’s already working a lot harder this year than last year so I expect her to produce. The same with Pernilla Winberg and Katie Wilson, both seniors, both are capable of much more than they’ve produced in the past. I expect them to have better seasons for us offensively.
Looking at your roster, a few things stand out. First, of all, you have eight freshmen and six sophomores, 14 underclassmen in all. What challenges does that present for you as a coach? What challenges have you presented to your upperclassmen with such a large youth movement?
When I see people in the grocery or out in public and they say ‘wow, you have such a young team this year’ and I say to them yeah, we have 14 very young players on our team and three of them are our goalies. It’s going to be a year of growth. However, even though you have a year where you have this many young players and you’re going to grow, you can still win. You can still overachieve, it just takes a little bit of time. It is going to be important for us to be patient this year, recognize that we have three freshmen goalies and a very young team and then just teach, just like we did back in 2009-2010. You just teach and you teach and you teach and you’re patient and you chip away at it and all of a sudden it just sort of comes together and it’s brilliant. So we are hoping for the same thing this year and that’s the approach that we are going to take.
Secondly, three freshmen goaltenders are on the roster. Except for when the program first started, it doesn’t appear that scenario is one that has played out for you here before. Any goalie in particular with an edge after a week of practice or do you envision healthy competition between the pipes for a while?
We’ve never had this situation before, and it’s certainly not something that you plan on when you are doing your rotation. Jennifer Harss had a year taken away from her that we did not expect and then Lana Steck broke her leg and had to come a year later and so our rotation is way out of whack. It’s unfortunate for us, but we are just going to have to survive it and make the best of it. The truth is, Sofia Carlstrom from Sweden and Kayla Black from Ontario they are both good; they’re both experienced for their age from where they are coming from and they are just going to have to compete. It’s the same in men’s hockey; there are always two goalies competing for the first spot. It’s rare in women’s hockey just because we don’t have the depth yet, so this is really my first time, other then one season when I had Kim Martin and Jenny Harss at the same time. This is new for us, a new situation, but I think it’s a good situation.
Sifting over the newcomers, are there any that you see having an immediate impact?
With the freshmen that are here, they are all going to have an impact of course, they are going to listen, they’re going to work hard, and they will have an impact on our performance and how we do. I would have to say that the one I expect the most out of as far as skaters is Hannah Bramm. We call her “Bam-Bam” now, that’s her new nickname, Hannah Bramm from Florida. She’s a big power forward, very skilled, great hands, good goal scorer, which might make you question why I am putting her on defense this weekend and possibly for our first four games of the season. She’s the freshman I expect the most offensive output from over time.
If you could point out a few things to fans about this team that they may not know or might overlook, on or off the ice, what would that be?
You know we have a very loyal fan base, and one of the things I would like to say to them this year is to support the coaches and the team by being patient, just like the coaches are going to be patient. We are going to do a lot of teaching, we have a young team and just stay with us, be patient and continue to support them. At some point the ball is going to drop, just like it did in 2009-2010. We are going to do a good job teaching them and chipping away at it and it is going to come together. I think we are going to be darn good by the end of the season.
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