One can’t blame Jesse Miller if he was glad to see the last of 2012.
Miller suffered three concussions during the year, including two in less than a month that ended his first WHL season with the Red Deer Rebels.
He picked up his first concussion in February, while with the midget AAA Winnipeg Wild, then was injured again on Nov. 18 against the Prince Alberta Raiders. After being cleared to play he returned a month later, picked up his first two assists of the season, then two games later was injured a third time.
“I went a long time at the start of the season without any points and when I picked up the assists just before the Christmas break, it gave me a lot of confidence and I was excited about going into the second half of the season,” said Miller from his home in Winnipeg. “Then we had the home-and-home with Edmonton and everything came to an end.”
While Miller wasn’t finding his way onto the scoresheet with the Rebels he was a solid contributor, playing mainly on the fourth line and killing penalties.
“So it wasn’t like I was on the bench all the time,” he said. “I played hard every shift and game-in and game-out and I was enjoying myself.”
While Miller wasn’t about to call the hit Nov. 18 dirty, it was a play that could have been avoided.
“There were a couple of seconds remaining in the game and we were leading 6-1,” he said. “I went for the puck in our corner and a PA defenceman came down and threw an elbow at the buzzer and I knew right away it was a concussion. It was crappy . . . bad luck”
The third, and final concussion came on an open ice hit.
“A Rebel defenceman passed me the puck and it was kind of my fault as I looked back and just as I got the puck I was hit. I’m not sure if it was his shoulder or helmet, but my head was aching and I knew exactly what it was.”
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter took Miller aside and suggested he go home to rest.
“He told me it wasn’t worth me risking my health.”
Miller has at home since, although he did spend a weekend in Red Deer, working out with several other Rebels prospects.
“It was a chance to see how my head was doing and it was fine,” said Miller, who is close to 100 per cent symptom free.
“It’s a little bit here and there but I’m not sure if it’s from the work out or being on the ice. Possibly I’m not sleeping well, but I know it’s a lot better than it was a couple of months ago.”
But Miller won’t take any chances with his health.
“I want a healthy future whether it’s playing hockey or in life,” he said.
“You only have one brain and one life and you don’t want to take chances when it comes to your brain. It’s not like a broken arm or leg which will heal. Brain injuries are a scary thing. You want to be able to lead a normal life.
“But right now I just want to play hockey and not worry about if I get a headache later in life.”
Miller indicated he’s always had some headaches.
“I could have had a couple of concussions when I was 12 or 13, but nothing serious. I’ve always had some headaches. I’m not sure if it’s part of my genes or what.”
Miller, who turned 19 on March 17, hopes to be back full time with the Rebels next season, although that will be up to what happens with his head and at training camp.
“Brent said as long as I feel good I’ll be back at training camp and they’ll take it from there,” said the six-foot-one, 175-pound left winger. “Other than that he didn’t say much.”
If he’s healthy, and doesn’t make the Rebels, he can always return to Manitoba.
“I’ve signed with the Winkler Flyers (of the Manitoba Junior A League), so I could go there if everything is fine. Other than that I could go to university. I have at least one year of my education paid for and if I play with the Rebels I’ll get another year. If I still have the concussion symptoms and can’t play I’ll get four years, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Miller has his fingers crossed that he can return to the Rebels, a team he selected over Calgary and Saskatoon when he first was invited to camp.
“It’s a top organization and I’m lucky to be part of it.”
Miller did have to laugh when asked about his card tricks and juggling.
“I haven’t touched the magic and juggling for a while, but I guess I could pick it up again,” he said. “It’s something that puts smiles on peoples faces and is entertaining.”
But above everything else Miller is looking to entertain Rebel fans while on the ice.