“He just got the puck and did his thing.”
That’s what Pioneer High School hockey coach Frank Garcia says of his senior co-captain, Jack Miling. And while the Pioneer campaign is gone with the winter season, Miling etched indelible memories with his flashy play.
Those who watched Miling “do his thing” won’t soon forget his 28-goal, 15-assist season for the 17-11 Pioneers. This, mind you, from a defenseman.
“When I got the puck, I’d just look for an open lane and if there was a lane I just took off,” Miling said during spring break, reflecting on his final season in organized hockey. “If there was no lane, I’d give up the puck, but lots of times, there was a lane.” And when there was an opening, Miling – who wore No. 4 in honor of his idol, the famed Boston Bruin defenseman Bobby Orr – took advantage.
“He was one of the best defensemen in the state,” said Garcia. “He’s not only a great defensive defenseman, but he knows when to turn it up and can pretty much create his own offense and score a goal.”
Consistency was Miling’s benchmark throughout the season, but like many great players, he brought out his best in big moments. In the final game of the regular season, with his team down 4-1 to Grosse Ile, Miling delivered a hat trick and the Pioneers went on to win, 8-5.
And he followed that up with a second straight hat trick, this time in what he called “the highlight game in our team’s season.” It was the first playoff game against crosstown-rival Skyline, a team that had beaten the Pioneers, 6-5, in overtime earlier in the season.
After falling behind 1-0 to Skyline in the postseason contest, Pioneer roared back – led by Miling’s three goals – and advanced with a 6-2 win.
“There was a lot at stake in that game, and our team came up really big,” Miling said. “Those are the kinds of things I’m going to miss. When everyone comes together for one goal, pointing to one thing.
“You spend so much time together on the ice, in the locker room, the camaraderie is unbelievable. And to come together for a win like that was something I’ll never forget.”
Miling also is a lacrosse player, but hockey is his athletic priority. He’s been playing since second grade when his parents, Dan and Cathy would drive him to practice. He’s not the only one with hockey in his blood, either. His older sister, Hilary, played field hockey at Livonia Mercy and his younger sister, Anna, is a freshman field hockey player at Pioneer.
“Lacrosse is fun, but I definitely prefer hockey, because every player is in on every play all the time,” Miling said. “There’s so much excitement, it’s such a fast sport, and there’s so much action.
“As a player, you can have such control of the game in hockey. It’s really hard to explain, but it’s just the greatest feeling to be on the ice.”
Even though he ripped the net for 28 goals, Miling knows “defending the goal is a defenseman’s No.1 priority.” But make no mistake about it, he enjoyed being a two-way player, combining tough defense with offensive prowess.
“If you have a defenseman who can play offense, it’s like having four forwards that a team has to defend,” he said. “And a lot of times in high school, you catch a team off guard because they don’t expect a defenseman to take the puck all the way to the net.”
In addition to fulfilling his duties as a top-notch defenseman, Miling also took seriously his role as co-captain.
“I wouldn’t say that I talked all that much, but I talked when I needed to,” he said. “Some people lead by example, some people lead by talking. I hope I did a little bit of both.
“The most important job of a captain is to keep a team level-headed and focused whether things are going bad or whether they’re going good. You can’t get too high or too low. Sometimes that’s hard to do, but it’s really important if you’re going to perform.”
Miling lists his shot and puck possession as strong suits of his game, and – like most defenseman – says his biggest challenge was knowing when to take the puck up the ice and when not to.
Even though he still loves the game, Miling is now leaving organized hockey behind. He’ll concentrate on his studies as he enters Michigan State University in the fall.
“I’m going to be a business major,” said Miling, who has a 3.6 grade-point average at Pioneer. “I won’t be playing club hockey. It’s not that I don’t love hockey, but it’s time to move on.”
It’s ironic that Miling uses the term “move on,” when he discusses leaving organized hockey because moving on is what he’s done since donning the purple, black and white jersey at Pioneer.
Usually, he’s been moving on up the ice. And often, scoring a goal.