He’s battled Warriors, traded punches with Hitmen, even gone toe-to-toe with a Giant.
Brandon Wheat Kings defenceman Ryley Miller surpassed 500 career penalty minutes in the Western Hockey League on Sunday and, like the majority of those minutes, he earned the milestone the hard way, with his gloves on the ice and his fists flying.
Based on hockeyfights.com statistics, that first-period dust-up with Swift Current Broncos heavyweight Daniel Dale was the 54th fight of Miller’s career. In an age when many wonder if fighting has any place in the game anymore, Miller is an unapologetic proponent of ‘old-time hockey.’
"I love it," said Miller, whose 505 penalty minutes in 223 career games dwarf his 34 points. "The energy, getting the crowd going, getting some noise in the building, to see if I’m tougher than everybody else."
Miller may not be tougher than everybody else, but the 20-year-old from Spruce Grove, Alta., is tougher than any lanky 6-footer who barely appears to have packed on a pound since he first broke into the WHL five years ago has a right to be.
In his league-leading nine fights this season, the 177-pound Miller has given up an average of more than two inches and 25 pounds to his opponents.
Clearly, the concept of not biting off more than he can chew is not something that crosses Miller’s mind.
"I think I can hold my own with mostly everybody in the league," he said. "… There’s always somebody bigger and tougher but no, I never really think about size. It just happens."
Always a heavy hitter in open ice, Miller said his fighting prior to joining the Wheat Kings was restricted to rough-housing with his little brother and his dad. That changed early in his first WHL season when — just three days shy of his 16th birthday — Miller was taken to task by 20-year-old Regina captain Victor Bartley after unleashing a hard check on Pats rookie Jordan Weal.
Since then, Miller has become known as a player ready to answer the bell, particularly to jump to the aid of his teammates. It’s something that hasn’t gone unnoticed in the dressing room.
"He’s obviously a great friend of mine and it’s just good to know that he will jump in for you whenever you need it," third-year defenceman Eric Roy said. "It’s good to have him as a ‘D’ partner."
There’s a price to be paid for Miller’s aggressiveness, however. Playing so close to the edge, sometimes he can’t help but cross the line.
But Wheat Kings head coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk believes Miller has made strides in that area over the years.
"I think he’s grown up and he’s got mature about that and he knows that if he crosses the line, there’s going to be some kind of consequences to face," Gylywoychuk said. "But I think Ryley plays for keeps every night, he plays against top players every night and I think he’s a valuable asset for us back there."
Miller’s style of play comes at a physical cost as well, but that hasn’t prompted him to change yet and it doesn’t look like he will anytime soon.
"I got one concussion, but mostly the hands (take a beating). You can’t take the helmets off; that kind of sucks," Miller said. "But other than the hands, it’s little bumps and bruises on the face. A little ice will take care of that."
ONE-TIMERS: The Wheat Kings leave today for Cranbrook, B.C., where they will face the Kootenay Ice on Friday and Saturday before completing a three-games-in-three-days road trip on Sunday against the Lethbridge Hurricanes … RW Jens Meilleur and RW Jason Swyripa both missed practice on Tuesday and Gylywoychuk said both were resting bumps and bruises from the weekend … LW Richard Nejezchleb, who hasn’t played since Oct. 13 due to a shoulder injury, continues to be restricted to non-contact practice.