‘This is what our league exists for’: Tri-City Storm coach addresses Miller’s past controversy

Tri-City Storm’s Mitchell Miller won the USHL Player of the Year Tuesday, sparking widespread outrage over issues in his adolescence relating to bullying and racial abuse.
Local4 News at 10
Published: Jun. 1, 2022 at 1:47 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 1, 2022 at 1:48 PM CDT
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KEARNEY, Neb. (KSNB) - Tri-City Storm defenseman Mitchell Miller said he had a goal at the onset of the 2021-22 USHL season: Win Player of the Year. On Tuesday, that dream became a reality, as the league announced Miller as the recipient of the award, as well as the league’s Defenseman of the Year honor.

It was met by blowback on social media as people called out the Storm and the USHL for honoring a player with a controversial history. When he was 14, Miller admitted to assault, bullying and racial abuse of a Black disabled classmate, Isaiah Meyer-Crothers. His scholarship to the University of North Dakota was reneged and his draft rights renounced by the Arizona Coyotes as a result.

Local4 spoke with Anthony Noreen, Storm coach and President of Hockey Operations, Tuesday to address why the franchise gave Miller a second chance at competitive hockey and their experiences with him now as a 20-year-old.

Here are those comments in their entirety:

“When we decided to bring him back it wasn’t a situation where, ‘Hey, this a guy that we didn’t know, but hey he’s a really good hockey player, so we’re going to bring him in here.’ This is a guy we’ve known for years. He’s a guy that’s sat in our locker room for an entire season. He’s a guy I’ve coached on a U.S. National team. He’s a guy that I’ve stayed in touch with even as he moved on. And we knew the person that we had met, the person we had known over the course of multiple teams and multiple years. We were able to convey that to the USHL and saying, ‘Hey, this is why we’re bringing him back. We believe in this kid. We don’t think this is the end-all-be-all of his story.’ And we put a plan together in place for his personal development, off-ice community service, diversity training, mental health stuff for himself personally, as far as people to talk to. We really just thought that we dealt with the league — and I give our commissioner a ton of credit, I give our front office and our league a ton of credit because when we put the plan together we just thought, ‘This is what our league exists for.’ This is what, to me, coaching exists for. This is what leadership exists for. Not to have a final ruling and judgement on someone for what they did in the past, but let’s try and help them to be better suited for their future. I don’t know if he’ll ever be able to fix what happened in the past, but I don’t think it should be the end all story of someone for what they did at 14-years-old. No matter what they did. I don’t think it can be the end all be all. Maybe that’s just the way I’m built mentally. I’m an optimist. I believe that people can change. I believe that people can grow. If we didn’t believe in that then what’s the purpose of sports? What’s the purpose of what we do in life? If you can’t get better and you can’t grow and learn from your mistakes — no matter how horrible they are. And I think, again, the league liked the plan we put together, we stayed on top of it and at the end of the day, I think anyone that actually knows Mitchell and actually got to experience him in his time here in Kearney — I’ve never heard anyone say anything but overly positive stuff. From the people in community outreach that he was involved in, his billet family, his teammates, his coaches, people that are a part of our support staff, our bus driver, our trainer, our media guy, everybody just has overwhelming positive things to say about their personal interaction with him. When he would sit after a game for an hour every single home game and sign every autograph until fans were gone. I guarantee if you talk to those people and ask them what they think, they’d say probably the same thing, ‘Listen, we don’t agree with what’s happened in the past, but that was a pretty nice kid, pretty outgoing kid, pretty well-spoken kid when we got to meet him in our community.’ Now, again, I think he’s going to continue to have to work on his personal development. He’s going to have to continue to prove that that’s not who he is now — what he did in the past. And, again, I don’t think it will ever make up for it, but I do like to believe that he could have a better future because of the time he spent with us in Kearney and in Tri-City and because of how hard he worked at his personal development over the time here. I know this, everyone in our organization is rooting for him and we certainly believe in him.”

Anthony Noreen, Tri-City Storm coach and President of Hockey Operations

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