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Paul Fichtenbaum
March 19, 1990
A Michigan State hockey tradition grinds to a halt
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March 19, 1990

End Of The Millers' Tale

A Michigan State hockey tradition grinds to a halt

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It is Parents' Weekend, and shortly after Michigan State beats Michigan-Dearborn 5-3, the Spartans move their larger-than-usual victory party a few blocks from Munn Arena in East Lansing to the USA Cafe, a joint where the dance of choice is the twist, not the lambada. But in a private room next door, no one is dancing to the music of Chubby Checker or Bill Haley. Instead, the Michigan State hockey players and their families and friends are celebrating. On this night in late January, which is also the occasion when the team's seniors are honored, a wave of nostalgia sweeps over at least a few of the people in the crowd.

"This is so sad," says Marie Miller, the mother of senior Kip Miller, the team's scoring leader.

"It's going to be really strange," says Kirsten Miller, Kip's 22-year-old sister, who's also a senior at Michigan State.

Sad and strange, indeed, because Kip is the last of a six-pack of Millers to play hockey for the Spartans. Kip's uncle Elwood, known as Butch, played defense in 1955-56 and '58-59; his father, Lyle, was a defenseman in '63-64; Kip's cousin Dean played left wing in '77-78 and '78-79; his brother Kelly was a left wing from '81-82 through '84-85; and his brother Kevin played center from '84-85 through '87-88.

Kip, a center, is the last of the line; he is also the best. As a junior he tied teammate Bobby Reynolds for the NCAA scoring crown. Through March 1 he was leading the nation in scoring again and is a top candidate for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, which is given to the best college hockey player in the country. For their part, the Spartans were doing just as well. Michigan State won the Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular season title and was atop the NCAA Division I hockey rankings.

Not that the Spartans' hockey program hasn't been successful in the past. Every season since 1981-82, they have finished with a winning percentage of .620 or better; they won the national championship in '85-86 and have placed second, third and fourth on three other occasions. It is no coincidence that Michigan State's success has corresponded with the arrival of Lyle Miller's sons.

Kelly was a talented defensive forward known more for his hard work and determination than for his offensive skills. In 1982 he was drafted in the ninth round by the New York Rangers, who later dealt him to the Washington Capitals. At 5'11" and 195 pounds, Kelly is a frontline checker for the Caps and now even boasts a solid offensive game.

Kevin, who at 5'9", 170 pounds, is the smallest of the brothers, was a 10th-round pick of the Rangers in 1984. Since leaving Michigan State, he has shuttled between the International Hockey League and the NHL. He is currently with the IHL's Flint Spirits. Kip, a 5'10", 190-pounder, is the most talented of the brothers. "Kip is a combination of the two older ones," says Michigan State coach Ron Mason, who has coached all three. "Kelly was a real hard-nosed, grinding player who worked well around the boards. Kevin had a little more finesse with the puck, and he could finish [a play] a little better. Kip is more of a smoothie. He doesn't play along the boards like Kelly, and he's got more Kevin in him from a standpoint of finesse, but he's still feisty. He can mix it up."

That should not surprise anyone, though, because in the Miller household the ability to hold one's own was taken for granted. "Whenever we played pickup games, it became an intense thing," says Kip. "It was fun, but it was also like, I don't want to lose to that guy, even if he is my brother.

"We used to play in my dad's [the Millers were divorced 10 years ago] pool, in the shallow end. It's a two-on-two game, with a hoop outside the pool. It's not basketball. It's more like dunk whoever has the ball. You take quite a beating. I think we've had a few bloody noses."

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