One of the most iconic ball hockey players to have donned the Maple Leaf internationally, Melissa Miller continues to add notable achievements in a splendid career that is destined to be treasured. With a pair of prestigious tournament appearances in 2018, it served to affirm Miller’s status as a national sporting treasure.
Returning to the global stage as one of Team Canada’s integral leaders at the WBHF World Championships, contested in Moscow and Dmitrov, Russia, Miller’s presence paid positive dividends. Once again, Canada’s contingent earned a podium finish, although it was unable to repeat as gold medalists, with host Russia prevailing in a visceral 2-1 final via the shootout. In spite of the fact that Canada’s outcome was not the one they wanted, the valiant effort displayed was testament to the program’s status as one of the elites. As a side note, the highly competitive Czech Republic earned the bronze medal.
Undoubtedly, Miller’s acumen, positive attitude and commitment to team and teammates alike, were essential for another important stint with Canada’s national program, albeit one that was rather unique, allowing her a chance to grow into a much larger and exciting role. As the sport of ball hockey continues to increase in prominence, sharing a growing global football with its on-ice cousins, one by-product has involved the expansion of tournament play.
This year would provide the stage for such a historic event, one that Miller was fittingly involved with, as the inaugural Under-20 Women’s World Ball Hockey Championships added another fascinating facet to the game’s compelling growth. Contested in Nitra, Slovakia, Miller was part of an encouraging coaching staff, one which included the likes of Tracy Kitchen and Danielle Close, ready to inspire a new generation to pursue their golden dreams.
Discussing the origins of this new chapter in her storied career, representing an exciting milestone, there was definitely a sense of team effort. strong sense of pride and honor in the opportunity to give back to the game,
“An email was sent out to members of the women’s team to assist with the U-20 camp in December. Myself and a few other members of the team volunteered to assist with the inaugural camp. I love giving back to the game and was excited to see the up and coming players in the game.
I organized and implemented the two practice sessions so that the players could be evaluated by the coaching staff. At the end of the day I was approached and asked if I would be interested in joining the coaching staff for the U-20 team. After checking with work to make sure that I could get the time off, I happily accepted the offer to join the coaching staff.”
Finding footing as the first rung in the developmental ladder for elite players, the benefit of obtaining valuable experience through international competition constituted only part of a much greater opportunity. Benefiting from the luxury of honing their skills from a group of influential coaches, tapping into their wisdom and competitive motivations, such privilege truly represented a gift.
Among such coaches, Miller was proud to be part of a staff that provided a roster of promising talent with a vast knowledge to draw from, instilling confidence and a belief that victory was possible. Considering that Miller’s superlative playing career has run parallel to a decade spent coaching younger players at the academic level, she was more than a perfect fit for Canada’s coaching staff. Taking on a dual role as mentor and big sister, she served as an invaluable resource for a group of players keen to understand the prestige of wearing Canada’s colors on one of the game’s biggest stages.
“I have had a lot of experience in the sport of ball hockey, both as a player and a coach. I have coached ball hockey at the high school level for 10 years and get great satisfaction from being able to teach the younger generation the great game of ball hockey as well as teaching life skills through sport.
I brought an interesting perspective to the coaching staff with being able to provide the girls with first hand experience about what to expect when competing at the World Championships. They had many questions for me and I was happy to answer all of them to help them get the most from their experience at the tournament.”
There was a reciprocal feeling for Miller, who found a strong sense of fulfillment and purpose in encouraging the next generation of world-class talent. A group destined to not only build on her impeccable playing legacy, but participate in the game’s optimistic evolution, with the goal of ascending to greater relevance and awareness.
“We had a great group of girls that really came together both on and off the floor. We had a lot of events leading up the tournament (escape rooms, bowling, pool parties, BBQs and practices) which really helped us to get the girls to bond as a unit. They really wanted to battle for each other and work towards reaching the common goal of bringing the gold medal back to Canada.
The girls worked hard throughout the tournament and really responded to everything the coaching staff told them to do throughout the week. It was nice to see all of their work pay off.”
Miller’s involvement also demonstrated her dedication to the game and unselfish approach, geared towards bringing out the best among all involved with the team. Considering that both events took place in a time span of less than eight weeks, Miller’s admirable involvement was, understandably, exhausting yet highly rewarding.
Bringing her reassuring smile and kind demeanour to her coaching role, creating a sense of optimism through her presence, simultaneously embodying the loyalty and respect that she exudes. Such a time developed into a labour of love, finding a tremendous growth that enriched her leadership abilities while introducing her to a new generation of players that were eager to share in the Team Canada experience with her, continuously demonstrating a tremendously positive example.
With the inaugural Under-20 Worlds involving a compelling gathering of talent in a highly competitive venue, the outcome of the event brought with it the element of the unknown, as numerous nations entered with an expectation of emerging with the gold medal. Definitely in the conversation among the golden favorites, it was Canada that achieved the historic first. Grabbing the U20 gold medal with a victory against Czech Republic, extending the rivalry into a new forum, the final results definitely served to emphasize the high value of coaching.
The victory definitely took on an exciting lustre as it certainly proved to be the defining moment in the young lives of these gifted competitors. Certainly, the achievement of gold in her coaching debut with the national team also accentuated Miller’s countless contributions to the game.
“It was definitely a tiring experience, but one that I would not change for anything. I jump at any opportunity to represent my country. Not getting the result we wanted in Russia provided me with an opportunity to talk to the girls about playing in a gold medal game and standing on the blue line having to listen to another countries national anthem and how that felt.
We also stressed the importance of practicing the shootout in case one of our games came down to that. Representing Canada will never get old for me, whether it is as a player or as a coach.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Game action photo credits from U20 Worlds: www.richtrik.cz
Other images obtained from Facebook