Jay Miller was a role player. His role: enforcer.
Although Miller played a robust style, he was not a dirty player by any stretch of the imagination. He didn't use his stick liberally nor did he bully smaller players. However, when it was necessary, Miller was the first to step in to protect his teammates, and more often than not that meant fighting the NHL's true heavyweights - names like Bob Probert, Marty McSorley, Dave Semenko and Dave Brown.
He fought 171 times in the NHL, including famously with heavyweight John Kordic nine times.
“You can’t hurt that guy,” Kordic told the Montreal Gazette. “Once, I brought my fist from a way back, hit him right between the eyes, and he didn’t budge. I couldn’t believe he didn’t go down.”
Miller admitted to not particularly enjoying the actual fights, but he understood the importance of the job.
“It’s to police the attitude of the game, it’s an enforcer, it’s a role that most people don’t want to do,” he said. “The role of the enforcer is to protect your players, and to make sure that liberties aren’t taken out (on them). It’s also part of the entertainment of the game, let’s just call a spade a spade. It was a big part of the entertainment value of the game in the ’80s and ’90s. You try to get a seat the Garden now, you can get a seat at The Garden. You try to get a seat at The Garden when I played? Impossible, you couldn’t get one. And what was that reason? You never knew what was going to happen. Something was going to happen. We had three tough guys: Cam Neely, Lydon Byers and myself, and any one would go at it at any time. We didn’t care.”
This 6'2" 210lb left wing from Wellesley, Massachusetts grew up idolizing Bobby Orr. But unlike Orr, Miller was at best an average skater. He had decent balance but little foot speed which made intimidation via body checking a trying task for the big guy. He was used strictly as an enforcer, usually in search and destroy missions against the other team's tough guys. His willingness to do this kept him in the NHL for over 400 games.
Though he had little skills other than his fists, Miller showed a scoring touch that leaves others jealous. Miller scored 40 career goals but only took 233 shots on goal in his 7 NHL seasons. That's a career shooting percentage of 17.2%, a very strong number.
Miller was originally a draft pick of the Quebec Nordiques (66th overall) in 1980. Miller decided not to pursue an NHL career at that point, instead opting to earn a business degree while playing hockey with the University of New Hampshire.
After graduating in 1983, Miller played two years bouncing around various minor league teams where he earned his reputation as a willing tough guy. In 1985 he signed as a free agent with the Boston Bruins.
Miller would play three and a half seasons with the B's with his best season being 1987-88. He played in 78 of 80 games that season, scoring 7 goals and 19 points in addition to his 304 minutes in the penalty box. That mark eclipsed Terry O'Rielly's team record for penalty minutes in a season. Miller would add a ridiculous 124 minutes in just 12 playoff games to lead the league in that department.
Miller was traded to Los Angeles early in 1989. There he joined Marty McSorley and later Jeff Chychrun as Wayne Gretzky's bodyguards. However Miller also enjoyed career bests in L.A. In 1989-90 Jay scored 10 goals while the 1990-91 saw Jay scored 20 points (8 goals and 12 assists).
In total, Jay Miller played in 446 games, scoring 40 goals and 44 assists while accumulating 1723 PIMs. He added and 243 PIMs in 48 playoff games, as well as 2 goals and 3 assists.
Miller is now the owner of The Courtyard Restaurant in Cataumet, MA, near Martha's Vineyard. He says he does not watch much hockey in retirement, saying his passion was in playing the game, not watching it.
But he remains forever proud of being a Boston Bruin.
“I’m a Bruin for life until I die; that’s something they can’t take away.”