Reggie Millette realized a significant, long-term goal when he secured a full scholarship to play hockey at American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts.
For Millette, it wasn’t a time to stop working.
The Jacksonville, Florida, native, who began playing hockey after moving to Fort Wayne, Indiana, decided to return to the Dubuque Fighting Saints to complete his junior hockey eligibility with one more season in the United States Hockey League.
“He was given an option and he chose to play out his final year in Dubuque with us to continue his development,” Fighting Saints coach Oliver David said. “… I personally think he made a very wise decision. That is what Reggie does, based on my time with him in Dubuque.”
The decision came easily for Millette.
“I don’t see why I would not play out my junior career,” Millette said. “It gives you another year to get better on and off the ice with things I have to do.
“Another thing is I get to come back to Dubuque. I just enjoyed my time there. I couldn’t ask for anything better. The way it was run there, from the staff all the way to the players in the locker room, for me, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing.”
Dubuque went 33-13-2-0 for the second-best record in the shortened regular season.
Millette is using the extra time now to continue making up for a later start in the sport than some of his teammates. He moved with his grandmother to Indiana and first tried speedskating at a local rink, before switching to hockey, while still learning to skate.
Millette and his family began leaning toward hockey, with the constant action involved in the sport. Reggie mentioned that at first his hockey skills were lacking compared to other kids, but his enthusiasm was unmatched. That effort and commitment is something that Millette displays still to this day, outworking opponents in any way that he can.
While talking to coaches and teammates, there was a constant theme: Reggie is a player who makes contributions beyond the scoresheet and is very difficult to play against.
Aidan Fulp, the 2019-20 Dubuque captain, learned that early in preparation for the Fighting Saints season.
“I remember at the beginning of training camp with our 30-man roster, we were doing some scrimmages,” Fulp said. “I just dreaded seeing Reggie’s name on the other team. I know he’s going to finish every hit. He’s never going to give up on any puck.”
It did not take long for Fulp to see that Millette was someone he wanted on his team.
“Every shift he was out there at camp, he was making a difference,” added Fulp.
That style allowed Millette to make an impression, not just on coaches, but on teammates this season.
“Reggie is just naturally aware of his presence and he uses it to bring everyone in. He doesn’t separate,” said David, who frequently found himself pointing to Millette as an example of the team-first mentality he was seeking. “He has the attention of the team. That’s just his natural-born leadership quality. He commands that kind of respect.
“… I don’t think you’ll find a teammate that didn’t appreciate Reggie as a person and a player.”
Millette’s presence has been winning over teammates, coaches, scouts and hockey leaders since his early days in the sport.
“As a coach, you love a player who plays with passion,” David said.
That passion for hockey was encouraged at an early age by anonymous supporters, who would make financial contributions to ensure Millette was able to continue playing youth hockey in Fort Wayne.
While not in a position to commit to such things yet, both David and AIC coach Eric Lang have speculated — in Lang’s case, in an interview with NHL.com’s Color of Hockey Blog — that Millette is the type of player likely to wear a letter as a team captain.
David sums up Millette’s approach in describing the shortest of his preseason player meetings, about a minute in length, in which he quickly knew his new player understood expectations.
“I’ve never had a one-minute meeting in my 12 years of coaching junior hockey and had a player of any age and any background who has walked out of that meeting and gone an entire season without needing to be talked to once, and not needing to be recalibrated at all,” David said.
NHL executive Dan MacKinnon had seen and recommended Millette to Rick Scero, who saw similar traits in a then-raw, 12-year-old player.
After Millette played for Scero’s spring league team, Scero and his wife, Chris, wound up taking Millette into their home so he could live in the Detroit area and play for Victory Honda.
“I have a lot of people who have helped me and they never went away when I went away,” Millette said. “Now, I’m just in a different state doing the same thing.
“It was hard for my grandmother at first and I remember seeing her crying when I left, but she also knew that it was the right decision. She was just happy that I got to play hockey.”
The support others have made to him is something Millette tries to remember while on the ice.
“I show my thanks through how I play,” he said.
While proud to be recognized for his hard work and teamwork, Millette also hopes to use the final year of junior hockey, before launching his college career, to add more of the finesse that may be demonstrated by more frequent appearances on scoresheets.
“For me, adding the finesse part to the grit is probably the piece everyone is looking for,” said Millette, who was part of championship teams in the High Performance Hockey League with Compuware three years ago and in the North American Hockey League with the Austin Bruins a year ago. “If I could add to that, I think I could be another step ahead.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo courtesy of Dan Hickling/Hickling Images.