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Three-year varsity defenseman Vinny Miller pushing Evanston to further heights

By Ross Forman, 10/18/23, 8:45PM CDT


Vinny Miller was a sophomore during the fall of 2021 in his first season skating for the Evanston High School varsity team, with their first home game against then-No. 3-ranked Saint Viator.

The fans came to support the Wildkits, though they were huge underdogs. Evanston came out fast and quickly put the Lions on their heels. It was, ultimately, a back-and-forth game that the Wildkits held on for the victory.

“The whole team was brought together with that win and it propelled us to a great start of the season. That definitely was one of my favorite moments playing hockey, especially (being) my first varsity start,” said Miller, 17, now a senior, skating in his third varsity season for the Wildkits.

Miller, a left-handed shooting defenseman, was named the team’s Most Improved Player as a sophomore.

“I’m a fairly balanced defenseman. I try to play physically in the defensive zone and the big thing for me is my vision and (the) first pass out of the zone. Those (parts) of my game are what I tend to focus and capitalize on most,” Miller said. “In the offensive zone, I like to filter down low at times for cycles and cuts for one-timers. I use my speed to beat people wide and create space for myself with the puck.

“My dad has been a huge influence on my career. He played hockey (through) college. His love for the game inspires me to be the best I can be when I step (on) the ice. His influence helped me become the hockey player I am today. He also influenced my decisions as a student-athlete representing my school.”

Miller, who also played his youth hockey for Evanston, played his first-ever game years ago in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

“Everyone was very excited for that game,” he said. “We ended up putting up 8 goals to their 1, and I scored 2 goals, one of them being the first goal (of the game) and then the fifth or sixth (goal). I was incredibly happy after that win and the whole team went out for pizza afterwards; it was an awesome way to win your first squirt championship.”

Miller’s hockey resume included many fond memories last season, too, as Evanston was a state power, not just within the IHSHL North-Central Division. The Wildkits went 18-7-3 in the Varsity Champions League and Miller chipped in 3 goals, 7 assists in 27 regular season league games. The playoff run also was memorable for Evanston, though the team was eliminated in the league championship series by eventual state champion PREP.

Evanston was eliminated from the state tournament by Stevenson in the sweet 16.

“We had a very fast and talented team that surprised a lot of people,” last season, Miller said. “We were very deep, with no weak spots in the lineup and great goaltending.

“The team made sure to have a lot of fun together in and out of the rink and when it came to it, the boys always showed up to compete. We hated losing. We ended up getting hot in the middle of the season, winning 21 consecutive games, and ended the year strong.

“Although we had a great year last year, we are not satisfied and hope to be back in the same spot this year.”

Evanston lost its league opener this season, falling 3-1 to state runner-up Chicago North.

The Wildkits rebounded two days later to defeat the co-op Kings, 5-2. Miller had 2 assists in the win.

“Losing a lot of seniors (from last season) can be hard, but it opens up opportunities for many younger guys and even returners to step up and lead the team,” Miller said. “Evanston hockey is moving in the right direction, especially having a skilled young varsity team with a strong JV team to back that up. For the team this year, the guys will all have to buy in and become leaders in their own ways if this team and program wants to stay in contention (among the) top 10 to 15 (teams) in the state. 

“As a young team I’m certain it will take a little bit to form a team identity, although when that does happen, I believe we have a very high ceiling, plus the skill and heart to compete with the best teams in the league and in the state. My team goal for the season (is) to make a return to the North Central league championship, but this time finish the job to cap off my senior year.

“One personal goal for the season is just to become more of a playmaker in the offensive zone, especially shots from the point. I want to have a 40-point season or more.”

Miller is undecided on his college plans, but he wants to play club hockey and club baseball at the next level. He is a varsity baseball player for the Wildkits.

Miller is looking to double major in business psychology and marketing, and now works as a customer service representative at the Northwestern recreational gym.

“Playing (baseball) builds unique skills that I can use to my advantage while on the ice,” Miller said. “Lifting (weights) help me become stronger, help me be physical and start to develop a harder shot.”

To that, he also played in multiple 3-on-3 hockey leagues this past summer.

“I improved my physicality over the summer with lifting and improved offensively, trying new things that I would not necessarily do in a game. I have added more ways to get around defenders in one-on-one situations. I also feel like playing baseball for a lot of the summer helped me with my mental game. Baseball is a game where it’s pretty much all mental. If you don’t have confidence, you won’t play well. I want to bring that to hockey, just being more confident in all areas of my game and trusting myself more.”

Such as last season’s playoff game against the Ice Cats, when Miller had 3 points in the team’s 3-0 victory. “There was a lot of pressure leading up to that game,” he said. “To contribute to what I believe to be the best win from last year was a huge highlight of my season.”


Slapshots With … Evanston Defenseman Vinny Miller

Hobbies: “Spending time with friends and eating good food.”
Favorite NHL Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Favorite NHL Player: Matthew Tkachuck
Favorite Sports-themed Movie: Slapshot
Favorite TV Show: Parks and Recreation
Favorite Pre-game Meal: Pesto pasta with grilled chicken
Favorite app: Snapchat
Celebrity You’d Like To Meet: Connor Bedard
Best Hockey Tip: “Coach Jimmy Kahn once said to me: ‘It starts with you guys back there on defense, having a good first pass is crucial, if you want to win games.’ This advice helped me a ton because when you think about it, a good first pass beats almost any forecheck and creates a scoring opportunity on the other end. This led me to focus on making that first pass better and it raised my game to the next level.”
Hardest Slapshot on Evanston: Paden Taylor
Most Accurate Show on Evanston: Kingston Scrim
Evanston Player Who You Could See As A Hockey Coach: Jaxson Ghate
Best High School Uniform (other than Evanston): Loyola Academy