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For the love of the game

Shannon Miller (BSPE’85) grew up in typical small-town Saskatchewan fashion: playing hockey. Originally from Melfort, Sask., Miller brought her love for hockey with her when she started at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) in 1981.

“I was lucky, in my first year of university USask was just starting the [women’s hockey] program that year,” said Miller. “I played on the very first ever (officially sanctioned) Huskiettes women’s hockey team. It was full bodychecking back then; no facemasks and full bodychecking.”

Since the team was brand new, the Huskiettes didn’t have a league to play in, but would take on other university teams and non-university teams that were within driving distance of USask. Miller played on the team for four years while completing her degree and then moved to Calgary.

Miller became a police officer, but was able to stay involved in hockey by coaching the Team Canada women’s team. She coached the national team from 1991 to ’98 and was the head coach of Team Canada at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

“When I was named the head coach at the Olympics, I was the only female head coach in the world for hockey and I was the youngest head coach,” said Miller. “During my time with Team Canada, we won three world championship gold medals and then an Olympic silver. From there, I moved to the United States to coach hockey for a living.”

Miller was the head coach at the University of Minnesota Duluth for 16 years. She had a very successful run in Duluth and her team won five Division 1 championships in her time there. But, during her final season, she was let go.

“A new athletic director came in and fired me and several other women, all of us openly gay,” said Miller.

Miller was shocked and upset that she was fired, even though her program had been very successful and she had proven track record of producing a winning team.

“When you have won more national championships than any other college coach in the country—men’s or women’s coaches and men’s or women’s programs—you expect to be treated a lot better and a lot different than I was.”

Miller decided to sue the university for discrimination.

“We all are going to leave a legacy and I didn’t want to be a female coach that leaves the legacy that I’m OK with an institution treating my female athletes like second-class citizens compared to the male hockey players. So, it was important for me to stand up and fight for our program and for myself,” said Miller.

Miller won her case in 2018, but is still in the post-trial process. She is also gearing up for another trial with two other coaches who were at Duluth and are suing the university for sexual orientation discrimination.

Although the trial has been a big part of her life for the last few years, Miller has continued with other pursuits and has started her own businesses. She and her partner run Sunny Cycle in Palm Springs, Calif., which is a business that tours people around downtown Palm Springs. Miller also started a coaching and consulting business and does a hockey podcast called Hockey Talk with Coach Shannon Miller, during the hockey season. But ultimately, she would like to get back to what she loves most.

“I really want to coach again, whether that’s on the women’s side of the game or the men’s side of the game, I just want to coach at a high level,” she said.

Miller also hasn’t forgot where she came from, and visits Saskatoon every summer to see her family. And the USask women’s hockey team hasn’t forgot about her either, presenting the Shannon Miller Most Valuable Player award that is given out each season.

“It’s really cool and I consider it to be a great honour,” said Miller.

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