For four decades, Miller has been the one constant of Kings hockey, a link between Larry Brown and Dustin Brown, and a bridge from Jake Milford to Jake Muzzin. At long last, Miller, who has been honored by the Hockey Hall of Fame, calls the action for a team that plays that game at the same level at which he broadcasts it.
Following the Kings run to the Stanley Cup in 2012, Miller can now sleep soundly.
“It was a relief,” said Miller, who is wrapping up his 41st season with the Kings. “It was so gratifying for me. It almost came out of nowhere.”
Before the Kings recent renaissance, Miller watched a franchise history that was largely uneventful from on high. But the proceedings on the ice were never beneath him. Even when his team was enduring a seven-year playoff drought (including the lockout year of 2004-05) from 2003-09, Miller was never above the fray.
“There have been times when the Kings were out of it,” Miller admited, “but when we do a broadcast, we are going live for three hours and that excites me. I am always anxious to see if I am going to have a chance to describe something I haven’t seen before.”
Miller is a walking, talking LA Kings Wikipedia page. He has encyclopedic knowledge of the franchise’s history because he lived through most of it. When Miller joined the franchise, it was just five years old. While he and broadcast partner Jim Fox will drop the occasional anecdote from the team’s history into their broadcast, Miller is not one to live in the past.
“I think the game we are doing is the most important one,” he said simply.
Maybe that’s why tuning in to Miller’s call during the Kings current incarnation as an NHL juggernaut is not all that different from listening to his narration during the organization’s decades of futility.
“I have always had the feeling that you have to do the telecast for the person that is tuned in and that person wants to be excited,” said Miller.
Still, after years of disappointment, Miller had his doubts. He wondered if he would see a Kings captain waltz with the Cup before he shuffled off to retirement.
“At my age,” Miller said, “I got to point where I asked myself if I should keep doing it or not. I’d watch other teams skate with the Cup and have their parade and I thought, ‘I’m not going to see it happen.’ Even midway through that season, I didn’t think I was going to see it happen.”
Miller’s concerns came honestly. Among the many disappointments he lived through were a devastating first-round dismissal at the hands of Toronto in 1975, and a bitter five-game loss to Montreal in the 1993 Stanley Cup Final.
“The 105 points in 1974-75 are still the most the Kings have earned in a season,” Miller said. “They lost only 17 games all season long (42-17-21).”
Then came a best-of-three mini-series vs. a Toronto team that finished under .500 (31-33-16, 78 points). The Kings won Game 1, 3-2, on Mike Murphy’s overtime goal, then lost two straight to the Leafs and a red-hot goalie named Gord McRae, and their season was over just like that.
“They went into that ridiculous best 2-of-3 series, where a poor team can have a couple of good games and eliminate a better team,” Miller said. “A lot of that falls on (then Kings owner) Jack Kent Cooke, who didn’t want to play a game on a Saturday afternoon. So instead, we played Thursday night in Toronto and then Friday night in Los Angeles.”
Almost two decades after that painful loss, Wayne Gretzky led the Kings to within three games of the Stanley Cup. But that season ended in heartbreak, too.
“To get that close in ‘93,” Miller mused. “To win Game 1, and be leading in Game 2, and then not win the series. To think we were that close. Like a lot of people, I thought we’d be back. But we missed the playoffs the next year and it shows you how difficult it is to win the Stanley Cup.”
On a couple of occasions, Miller said, things were so uncertain in Los Angeles that he gave serious thought to seeking employment elsewhere.
“Once was at the end of my first five years,” Millers said. “Bob Pulford left the Kings to be the General Manager in Chicago, and he told me not to sign a new contract (with the Kings). I looked into it, but they wanted to hire someone else, which was fine.”
The other time came when Philip Anschutz took over ownership of the franchise.
“Anschutz Entertainment bought the team,” Miller said. “The Coyotes were moving to Phoenix and I looked into it. Neither time did I get an offer.”
Miller is glad he didn’t. So are Kings’ fans. When the Kings finally won the Stanley Cup, it was Miller who stood as the franchise’s most enduring symbol of perseverance.
“So many people were so nice to me,” Miller said. “It was really gratifying, especially to have so many people come up to me and say, ‘We are really happy for you.’ So many people want to see the ring. Even on the road. I was at a restaurant in Detroit once, where they have won a lot of Stanley Cups, and someone came up to me and wanted to see the ring. I’m always happy to show it, or let them take a picture.”
The man with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a press box named in his honor, and recognition in the Hockey Hall of Fame said the Kings Stanley Cup win was, “The cherry on top. A capper on my career.”
Not that that career is over. Not yet. Miller was determined to see the Kings win the Cup. When they did, he wanted to make at least one tour around the league as part of the defending Stanley Cup champions’ contingent.
“It’s taken some pressure off,” Miller said.
Miller is often likened to longtime Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn, who continued broadcasting until his dying day, and Vin Scully, who has been with the Dodgers since 1950.
“People ask me if I am going to last as long as Vin Scully, but he’s been doing it for 65-some years,” Miller said with a chuckle. “If I did the Kings games for that long I would be 98, so that’s not going to happen.”
Still, Kings fans can rest easy; Miller says he has no immediate plans to sign off from his life’s work. Yes, he has seen the Kings win the Stanley Cup, but still hasn’t seen it all.
“Now,” Miller said, “I want to see the Kings win it again.”
The Kings play tonight on Prime Ticket at 7 p.m.
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