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Women’s hockey: Shannon Miller returns to coaching as legal battle with UMD continues

Coach Shannon Miller and captain Karine Demeule celebrate in 2008 at the DECC the fourth of five NCAA championships Minnesota Duluth would win under Miller as coach of the Bulldogs. After getting ousted by UMD at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season, Miller is returning to coaching with the Calgary Inferno of the professional Canadian Women's Hockey League. News Tribune file photo1 / 2
Shannon Miller is flanked by lead attorney, Dan Siegel, and Jen Branford after winning her federal discrimination lawsuit against Minnesota Duluth in March. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com2 / 2

Former Minnesota Duluth head women’s hockey coach Shannon Miller now makes her home in Las Vegas and like the many who visit the Entertainment Capital of the World, Miller was up late last week.

Miller wasn’t catching a show or playing cards, however. She was at home making phone calls, trying to recruit players in Europe, just like her days in Duluth

“I’ve been on the phone a lot the last week calling Americans, Canadians, Europeans,” Miller said. “I set aside one night staying up from midnight to 3 in the morning and made those calls (to Europeans).

“Yeah, it’s kinda fun.”

Miller is still fighting a lengthy legal battle against the school she brought five NCAA women’s hockey titles from 1999-2015, but she’s also back doing what she loves — coaching — for the first time in three years.

The Calgary Inferno of the professional Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) announced Miller as the team’s head coach for the 2018-19 season a little over a week ago, giving Miller her first coaching job since her departure from UMD.

Ever since she was informed midway through the 2014-15 season that she would not get a new contract from the Bulldogs, Miller said she’s been applying for coaching and administrative jobs. Most of her efforts were focused on seeking employment again in the United States in college athletics, though she said she also reached out to USA Hockey, Hockey Canada and the national federations in Finland and Sweden, where she had ties from her days as coach of the Bulldogs.

Coaching in the CWHL — or in any other pro women’s league, like the rival National Women’s Hockey League — hadn’t crossed Miller’s mind until she was contacted by Gina Kingsbury, who served as an assistant coach under Miller at UMD in 2014-15.

Kingsbury now works for Hockey Canada as the organization’s director of National Women’s Teams Programs. She also works part time as an assistant coach for the Inferno, and the team was in need of a new coach. Kingsbury reached out to Miller and the two had a couple of conversations. Before long, Miller was talking with Inferno general manager Kristen Hagg about becoming head coach.

It all happened in a span of 48 hours, Miller said.

“This was a bit of a surprise,” said Miller, whose ties to Calgary are strong. She was a police officer in the city for 10 years, and with the help of a couple friends helped start the first girls minor hockey team in the city. “I’ve been applying for jobs for three years. I thought I’d be getting a head coach (job) in college or in the men’s game. I’m just going to take it as it comes. The best I can do right now is rent a place, move there, coach and see how I feel. See if I love it and want to stay. See if it opens other doors.”

Miller admits her knowledge of the Inferno and CWHL is far from extensive. She’s familiar with the league’s history (it’s entering its 11th season) and what she remembers from conversations with former players who have been a part of the league (prior to 2017-18, players were not paid).

Miller is currently helping Hagg build the roster for the 2018-19 season. The team signed Zoe Hickel, a captain for Miller at UMD in 2014-15, last week. Another former Bulldog, Brigette Lacquette, is also returning to the Inferno after playing last season with Team Canada in the Olympics, Miller said.

Miller will head to Calgary this month to learn more about the organization, its partnership with the NHL’s Calgary Flames and its connections to youth hockey in the city. She’s going to find a place to live there in-season while maintaining her residence in Las Vegas.

Miller said she plans to not only continue her Sunny Cycle pedal pub business, but grow the company. She said she is also focused on her legal fight with UMD, with a discrimination lawsuit in state court about to get underway this month following a victory in March in her federal discrimination suit that awarded her $3.74 million.

“I’m really glad we had such a strong convincing win at the federal level, that was really important, hoping it would open coaching doors, and it has,” Miller said. “I’m going to walk through it. I’m excited to be back coaching, getting in the saddle — so to speak — heading to Calgary. We’ll see where it takes me, we’ll see what happens. And I’m looking forward to the state trial, too.”

CWHL Quick Facts
  • Founded in 2007, CWHL is one of two professional women’s hockey leagues in North America along with U.S.-based National Women’s Hockey League (founded in 2015)
  • CWHL has seven teams, including one in the U.S. (Boston) and two in China
  • Calgary Inferno began play in 2011-12, originally as Alberta Honeybadgers before partnering with the NHL’s Calgary Flames. Inferno have one league championship (2016)
  • League began paying players in 2017-18. Each team has a salary cap of $100,000, leaving players making between $2,000 to $10,000.
  • Former Bulldog Caroline Ouellette of the Montreal Stars/Les Canadiennes is the league’s all-time leading scorer with 246 points.
Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

(218) 723-5317