When his Lower Austria Stars face off against Canada’s National Women’s Team on Jan. 28, it’s sure to bring back some fond memories for John Miner.
Miner, 49, is assistant coach with the under-20 prep team and specialty coach at the Okanagan Hockey Academy Europe in St. Pölten, Austria, where Team Canada is acclimatizing, practising and training before heading to Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
Miner also happens to be a Team Canada alumnus himself, having won the gold medal at the 1985 World Junior Championship in Helsinki and Turku, Finland, as well as at the 2002 Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland.
“I’ve had so many great experiences,” the Moose Jaw, Sask., native said of representing his country on the ice. “Any time you put on that jersey is just an incredible feeling.”
Miner remembers attending a national team camp as a 16-year-old defenceman, “with a lot of them that ended up stars of the NHL, like Mario Lemieux.”
“We were the first team to win gold overseas,” Miner added of his world juniors experience with Canada’s National Junior Team.
He also said legendary Team Canada coach Andy Murray “had to put an unbelievable team for Davos forward, because if they didn’t, they weren’t going to be invited anymore, so (he) went out and brought all the top guys he could within Switzerland, Sweden, Germany.
“That, for me, was a real special feeling,” Miner said. “Every time I watch the Spengler now, I might have had a little piece of that, and Andy did a fabulous job.”
While he’s proud to have had the chance to sport the maple leaf on his chest, Miner said Tuesday’s game against Canada’s National Women’s Team won’t be the first time he’s played against his own country. In fact, his German club team, the Cologne Sharks, took on Team Canada at the Spengler Cup in 1999 and 2000, winning the former and placing third in the latter tournament.
“A lot of the guys that I played with on Team Canada, now I’m playing against them,” Miner recalled with a chuckle. “We knocked them out; we made the final.”
After a successful junior hockey career with the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats, Miner was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers – the 220th player selected in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft – playing three years with them and their American Hockey League affiliate, the Nova Scotia Oilers. His 14 NHL games all came with Edmonton during the 1987-88 season, a campaign that ended with the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup.
His Oilers career came to a close on Aug. 9, 1988, when he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings as part of the infamous Wayne Gretzky deal.
“That’s probably the highlight of my whole career,” is Miner’s usual wisecrack about being in the middle of the historic NHL trade.
Soon after, Miner moved his professional game to Europe, where he spent two decades as a stand-out player in the Austrian, Danish, French, German and Swiss elite leagues, being named to several all-star teams. Miner and his wife also raised their two children overseas. “It’s home for us,” he said.
Miner retired from playing at 42 years old, took a couple of years off, and then picked up coaching, earning Level 1 and 2 of Hockey Canada’s National Coach Certification Program. He worked with pro teams and at skills camps across Europe before joining the Okanagan Hockey Academy Europe for the 2013-14 season. It’s the sister facility to the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton, B.C., and is owned and operated by Canadians, with players coming from across the continent to learn the game.
“I thought it was a pretty neat concept,” Miner said. “I’m pretty excited to actually be on the other side of the bench … It’s kind of nice to help these kids try and reach their goals.”
He and the young men he’ll coach in Tuesday’s game also hope to help Canada’s National Women’s Team reach its goal of successfully defending its Olympic gold medal in Sochi.
Canada’s National Women’s Team has already played an exhibition game against OHA Europe’s under-18 varsity team, getting edged 5-4 on Jan. 24, just two days after arriving in Austria. Miner said he’s impressed with what he’s seen on the ice.
“I was just amazed at how beautifully they skate,” Miner said. “The cohesion that they have is really nice.”
Miner added “It’s an honour and a privilege” for his team to “help the girls get ready for the Olympics.”
“So we’re going to try and give them a good push, and give them a really good game,” he said. “And in turn, the girls are going to make our guys play,” he said. “But it’s to prepare the girls – that’s the No. 1 priority.”