The Tri-City Storm announced the signing of defenseman Mitchell Miller for the 2021-22 season on Wednesday. Miller was selected in the fourth round by the Coyotes in the 2020 NHL Draft; however, Arizona renounced the pick less than a month later after it was revealed he bullied a Black classmate with developmental disabilities four years prior. The abuse, per the Arizona Republic, reportedly lasted years and involved racial slurs, physical contact and getting the victim to lick a push-pop that had been rubbed inside a urinal.
Miller played for the Storm in 2019-20 prior to being drafted. Once considered a top NHL and USA Hockey prospect, he did not play hockey in 2020-21 after the University of North Dakota also removed him from its hockey team.
“After careful consideration, the Tri-City Storm has decided to provide Mitchell Miller with an opportunity to resume his amateur hockey career,” Anthony Noreen, the USHL team’s president of hockey operations and head coach, said in the announcement. “We know Mitchell very well and we are convinced what happened when he was 14 isn’t indicative of his character or who he is now as a 19-year-old young man.
“Mitchell and the Storm do not minimize what happened five years ago. Bullying and racially offensive remarks are wrong under any circumstance. Mitchell is fully aware of that, he regrets what he did, and is genuinely sorry. He’s grown and matured greatly since then, and we believe in the person that he’s become. We will continue to support and guide Mitchell to ensure his maturation and commitment to helping others continues.”
“I’m grateful for the chance to resume my playing career with the Tri-City Storm,” said Miller in Wednesday’s release. “What I did when I was 14 years old was hurtful to others, and I’m truly sorry for that. I’ve done a lot of growing up over the past five years, and become a mature person who is respectful of everyone at all times. I pledge to make the most of this opportunity, and be a good person on and off the ice, helping others in as many ways as I can.”
In October 2020, The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline obtained police records and letters written by Miller and the victim’s mother.
“Hello — I’m the mother of the boy that Mitchell Miller bullied,” began the letter from Joni Meyer-Crothers to the Coyotes organization days after the draft. “I read the statements made by the GM (Bill Armstrong) etc. and find them demeaning to our son. Are you aware Mitchell NEVER apologized to our son? Are you aware two years ago he still taunted him? Are you aware this went on for years? Do you understand the mental damage Mitchell did to our son?”
Miller sent a letter to all 31 NHL teams in 2020 where he stated he “is a different person” and was “thankful to have learned a very painful and valuable lesson.” Portzline stated that a number of franchises were not convinced he was truly remorseful — something William Hutcheson, the juvenile magistrate who heard Miller’s case, told Miller in court and which Joni Meyer-Crothers noted in her letter.
According to the Storm announcement, Miller will participate in a Diversity and Inclusion program for personal and professional improvement and will work with a sports psychologist.
“The USHL has reviewed and vetted the current situation in regards to Mr. Mitchell Miller at great length,” said USHL president and commissioner Bill Robertson. “We believe Mr. Miller deserves a second chance and opportunity, while also feeling that the Tri-City Storm organization has developed an on-going developmental plan to assist this young man off and on the ice while competing this season in our league. We wish Mr. Miller well this year.”
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