Dec. 2, 2003
Who knows how Michigan State hockey survived its first 14 seasons.
From 1922, when varsity hockey began, until the 1954-55 season, Michigan State played 14 seasons of varsity hockey and compiled a record of 45-100-4 (.300 winning percentage).
From the 1955-56 season until now the Spartans have tallied a 996-663-8 record, a .580 winning percentage.
So what changed in 1955?
That is the season that Elwood "Butch" Miller arrived on campus from Regina, Saskatchewan and began an unprecedented run for the Miller family and Michigan State hockey.
Freshman forward Drew Miller is the 10th of a long line of Millers to wear the Green and White and skate for the Spartans, part of a legacy that includes 46 seasons in the NHL, 25 varsity letters and two Hobey Baker awards.
Let's try and trace the 48-year lineage between Elwood and Drew.
Legendary Michigan State coach Amo Bessone was the headman when Elwood came to Michigan State in 1955. As a defenseman, Elwood earned two varsity letters. Younger brother Lyle was the second Miller to skate for the Spartans and was a letterwinner in 1964.
A second generation of Millers at Michigan State began when Butch's son Dean played for Bessone. He lettered in 1978-79 as a forward.
"I looked at playing elsewhere," Dean said. "But Michigan State was really the only place I wanted to play."
A common sentiment among the Miller family.
The next coach to reap the benefits of the Miller family was current Michigan State Athletic Director Ron Mason. In 1982, Mason recruited Kelly Miller to skate for the Spartans. Kelly, the eldest son of Lyle wore the green and white from 1982-85 and was a ninth round draft pick of the New York Rangers. He spent 15 seasons in the NHL.
Next came Lyle's middle son Kevin who played forward for Mason from 1985-88. Kevin tallied 201 points during his Michigan State career, placing him 12th on the all-time scoring list. He also had the honor of playing for Team USA in the 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary. Later that year, he became the second Miller to join the Rangers as he began his 16-year NHL career.
Lyle's youngest son Kip arrived at Michigan State in 1987 and was the Spartan's first Hobey Baker Award winner in 1990. The talented center ranks third on the Spartan's all-time scoring list, finishing with 261 points in his career. Kip was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in the fourth round and is in his 14th season in the NHL; he currently plays for the Washington Capitals.
The Miller family tree includes the Gemmel branch as well; Mason brought in Miller cousins Taylor and Curtis to play in the late 1990s. Taylor lettered in goal for the Spartans in 1996 and was followed shortly after by his brother Curtis. Curtis played center for the Spartans and called Munn Ice Arena home from 1996-99.
That brings us back to Dean and his first son Ryan. Ryan became the second Hobey Baker winner at MSU and in the Miller family when he became the second goalie ever to win the award in 2001. As a Spartan netminder, he finished his career at Michigan State as the all-time leader in goals against average (1.54), save percentage (.941) and in shutouts (26), an NCAA record. Ryan is in his second season as a goalie in the Buffalo Sabres organization.
"I always wanted to go to State," Ryan said. "MSU was a perfect fit for me and my goals."
And now for the Miller family, No.10!
"He has basically been going to college since I started," Ryan said. "He has been around the environment for so long, all he needs to do is work hard and have fun."
Of course we're speaking of Ryan's younger brother Drew, the 10th Miller to skate for Michigan State.
"I think it helps a lot that I know my way around campus," Drew said. "The transition was a lot easier, knowing the people, the coaching staff and just knowing what's going on."
He will be the first Miller to play under the watchful eye of second-year head coach Rick Comley. As a freshman, Drew knows that he is not expected to do too much; he just has to produce in any way.
"I think there's a little pressure because of the Miller name, but I don't really look at it that way," Drew said. "It's more of the fans putting pressure on me, I really don't feel it.
"All I know is that I'm a Miller and I can play hockey."
Drew has gotten a bit of a head start over some other freshman as he has been fortunate enough to be around Munn Ice Arena and Spartan hockey his entire life.
"When I was in seventh or eighth grade my cousins Curtis and Taylor were on the team and that's really when I started hanging around the arena," Drew said. "Then I got to high school and my brother started here I started hanging out with guys on the team, so I have been around the lockerroom and the guys since I was really young."
As a highly touted recruit out of nearby East Lansing High School, Drew had always planned on playing at Michigan State; there was only one thing that could keep him from being a Spartan.
"The only way I wasn't coming here was if they didn't want me," he said.
Not much chance of that happening.
Drew played for the River City Lancers of United States Hockey League last year, and was selected to the USHL All-Star team. Drew became the fifth Miller to be drafted in the NHL when he was a sixth round selection of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in the 2003 draft.
Sometime in 2005, during Drew's junior season, the Miller family will reach another milestone. It will be 50 years since Drew's grandfather Elwood skated in his first game in the Green and White, a 2-0 win against St. Lawrence.
The celebration will undoubtedly follow another Spartan win.
By Rob Schlissberg, MSU Sports Information