BostonBruins.com - For the first time in over two decades, hockey is not Kevan Miller's priority. Despite his occupation, the 32-year-old has a far more important focus these days. Four knee surgeries over the last 14 months have made sure of that.
"Walking around is OK," said Miller. "I've been able to get out and do some fun activities that I like to do that are very minimal on my knee…I'm going up and down stairs. That was a big issue for me for a long time. I'm going up and down stairs somewhat normal now, moving around pretty well in that case.
"I'm tying my shoes normal again. That's a good thing. I'm putting one foot in front of the other. I'm able to put my jeans on like I used to be able to. There's progress for sure."
For most, such trivial daily tasks are done without a second thought, but for Miller, they represent significant milestones in a long and grueling recovery that has put his hockey career on pause for well over a year.
"It's taken a toll, for sure. Mentally, physically...it's been a long road," Miller said on Wednesday afternoon during a media conference call to discuss being nominated for the Masterton Trophy, which is awarded annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.
"But [I'm] trying to keep things in perspective that I'm still able to walk around and spend some time with my family and starting to exercise again, starting to feel somewhat normal again. I'm hoping to get back to 100 percent…and re-join the team at some point and get back to playing hockey."
Miller has not played since April 4, 2019, when he spun awkwardly into the boards and fractured his right kneecap during the Bruins' penultimate game of the regular season in Minnesota. It was Miller's third game back after an extended absence with an oblique injury, which along with a broken hand and fractured larynx limited him to a career-low 39 games.
The brutal rash of injuries continued during Boston's postseason run as Miller, rehabbing rigorously in an effort to return for the Stanley Cup Final, re-fractured his knee during off-ice training in Carolina in the midst of the Eastern Conference Final.
The horizontal fracture - one that is rarely seen in sports and far more common in combat - was worse than the initial vertical break, ending his season for good and keeping him off the ice until mid-October, at which point he began skating at Warrior Ice Arena.
Miller progressed enough to join his teammates for practice on Nov. 11, but a bevy of setbacks and two subsequent procedures on his knee scrapped any attempts at making his way back into the Bruins' lineup.
"First and foremost, I just want to be able to function normally here," said Miller, who was operated on by Dr. Matthew Provencher. "That's Step 1, and Step 2 is to be able to do some things off the ice that I was able to do before, and then get 100 percent off the ice.
"Once I'm able to cross that bridge, then at that point I'll be able to put the skates back on and be able to perform like I was able to. That's my hope and my goal. I wake up every morning trying to get to that."
Right now, the California native has put most of his energy into improving his quality of life and making sure he is able to properly take care of his newly expanded family. Miller and his wife, Haley - already parents to two-year-old Remi - welcomed their first son in January.
"It's tough to be there for your kids when you're not able to really do as much as you'd like or usually can, be there for your wife, be there for your kids, be present," said Miller. "Those are the type of things - it's beyond just the actual physical trauma…there's a lot going on, on my family side, and that takes a toll.
"I'm at that point now where I can certainly help around the house a lot more and I'm looking forward to being able to do more of that and that's one of the big aspects for me."
Miller and his family are currently at their home in Colorado where the former University of Vermont standout is able to rehab freely away from some of the COVID-19 restrictions he faced while at his residence in Charlestown. Those limitations and a lack of NHL games have, however, helped Miller to temper his urgency level and tread more carefully in his recovery.
"It's allowed me to heal without any real timeline," Miller, who received a clean X-ray a few weeks ago, explained. "That's kind of where I'm at now, that there's no timeline. I haven't circled a date. Before I was circling dates, now I'm not circling dates and I'm just saying, 'Hey, we need to get to that next point, that next mark.'
"[We have a cat scan coming up] that will really tell where I'm at and from there we can look at strength training and getting back to that and eventually I'll be able to look at getting back on the ice."
Whether that return to the ice happens in a Spoked-B is to be determined. Miller, who has spent the first 10 years of his professional career with the Bruins organization, is an unrestricted free agent at season's end and has left any contact discussions to his agent Peter Fish in an effort to keep his focus on rehab and recovery.
What the rugged blue liner does know is that he'd like nothing more than to someday have hockey back as a priority.
"I'd be lying to you if I wasn't worried that I don't know how this is gonna end up," said Miller, who has 12 goals and 67 points in 324 career games with the Bruins. "But it's part of my job, it's part of my passion. I want to be healthy. I want to play. I know I can help the team.
"It's a tough pill to swallow when you're showing up to the rink and you can't see the guys and it's been so long since you've been able to play a game, but I'm not losing hope on that at all.
"If anything, it's kinda pushed me to push more and make sure I'm doing it the right way and to get back out there and try to get back to 100 percent."