As the Victoria Royals’ team bus heads off on a lengthy road trip east, its journey is taking Carson Miller to familiar territory.
Miller will be a tour guide to some of his teammates that are less familiar with the prairies, including the team captain.
Phillip Schultz, the native of Denmark, has never been to Manitoba or Saskatchewan and Miller hinted on what he can expect.
“I think it’s pretty white and flat right now,” said Miller with a smile. “So it might get old quick.”
“For me, I feel pretty comfortable and I enjoy it.”
“All the little things I’ll point out for them. The grain bins, all the farms, the empty space. I think it’s an experience for a lot of people to see how different that part of Canada is from British Columbia. A couple of provinces over but a really big change in people, lifestyle and things like that. It’s an experience.”
Growing up in Saskatchewan
Prior to last season, the 19-year-old spent much of his young hockey career in the heart of Saskatchewan.
The native of Yorkton, SK played bantam hockey for the Yorkton Terriers AA of the Saskatchewan AA Hockey League, the Yorkton Maulers of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League and then made the leap to the Western Hockey League with the Prince Albert Raiders.
“We had a great group of guys for that couple of years,” said Miller on his time with the Terriers. “I was really fortunate to have the people that I was surrounded with in Yorkton. I think I had 13 or 14 guys from that team in my elementary school and high school classes. All living within a three or four-block radius. We really lived every day together.”
While with the Terriers AA Bantam team, Miller saw some offensive success and helped propel his team to a couple of championships. One particular season included Miller racking up 107 points in 31 games.
“The streaks that we went on for winning, along with the titles that we were able to win – overall just the experiences and memories”
“With that group, coming home for Christmas every year we still spend a lot of time together. It’s pretty cool to see where all those guys have played now within the ‘Dub’ and just how successful we’ve all been from those hardworking moments.”
Making the jump to the WHL
That level of success led to Miller being selected 21st overall by the Raiders in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft. And while that level of offensive success still eludes him at this next level, Miller remains focused on the job at hand.
“It’s a lot of just growth. Coming in (to the WHL) as a young guy, initially playing with a lot of older people. I’m growing into whatever role I’m given, making the most of it and continuing to work.”
“Growing up I scored a lot of goals and got a lot of points. I still work for that every day. But you’re not always going to be the guy. You always want to work and keep learning things from those guys around you to get that back.”
Knowing Adam Herold
The bonds to his home province run deep and as a result, Miller shares a link to its worst tragedy. Adam Herold, a victim of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, was a familiar opponent of Miller’s playing through the different levels of hockey. As well, they were briefly young teammates looking to crack the Raiders squad.
“Adam and I had quite a relationship growing up, playing against each other for four years. He was on the Regina Pat Canadians, me on Yorkton. It was quite a rivalry. He was always tough to play against, he was such a competitor.”
“Then him being up to Prince Albert and being able to spend some time with him as a teammate, I got to know more the kind of guy he was. You just wanted him to be on your team, how much of a team guy he was.”
In 2018, Miller was awarded the Adam Herold Memorial Award, a scholarship set up as part of the Adam Herold Legacy Foundation. The award is given to those who best exemplifies academic excellence, community involvement, role model characteristics, positive attitude and athletic accolades.
“It was pretty cool to be awarded that in remembrance of him. I definitely will remember him and try to live the kind of life that he lived.”
Injury and recovery
This start of the season was a challenge for Miller, as he suffered an injury that required surgery and extensive rehab. A broken leg slowed the 19-year-old and the recovery was well documented in a Royals TV piece.
Now fully healed, Miller looks back at that time, “It’s definitely been tough mentally and physically, losing the training I had all summer.”
“It’s definitely tough to keep that motivation and energy throughout the whole season when things like that happen. But it is part of the game. I think it grows yourself as a person outside of hockey and how to deal with things, like leaning on those around you to draw motivation from.”
Beyond Miller’s offensive ability, he seems to have a knack for getting under his opponents’ skin. It’s not uncommon for him to be a target of post-whistle scrums, something Miller does not shy away from. Given his soft-spoken nature, it seems a little surprising.
“It is just how close of a group we have. Being able to stand up for any of the guys and they would do the same for me.”
“I care a lot about the game and the team, I want to show that every night. I can get frustrated when I feel like I’m not doing enough for the team. Those are times I maybe want to step up and draw some energy.”
The Royals have a tough road ahead on this road trip. The long travel is mixed with facing some particularly hot teams in the Eastern Conference.
“Our team matches up very well against the way the East plays,” said Miller. “I’m looking forward to seeing the grit and the physical play that I was used to when I played in Prince Albert.”
“I’m excited to see where we match up against those teams, to see what they’re all about and obviously show them what the Victoria Royals are all about this year.”