Class Act

Gropher Great Returns To Campus To Impart Knowledge On Next Generation Of Players While Settling Some Unfinished Business
By: 
Jess Myers

When Corey Millen first set foot on the University of Minnesota campus as a student in the fall of 1982, he could go to a brand-new stadium called the Metrodome to watch the Golden Gophers play football.

By the time he completed his college degree this spring, the Metrodome had been reduced to rubble, three years prior.

Lots of students take more than four years to finish their degrees. Not all of them take nearly 35 years to get the diploma.

But Millen had quite a few excused absences along the way. His four years of college hockey - in which he put up 119 goals in 149 games, placing him in the top three offensively all-time among Gophers - were twice interrupted by stints with the U.S. Olympic Team in the 1984 and 1988. He played parts of eight seasons in the NHL, and another seven seasons of pro hockey in Europe. And he'd coached successfully at the Junior level for several seasons.

But as he turned 50, the Cloquet, Minn., native's thoughts of his coaching future kept returning to college hockey. And to work at that level, he knew he needed to return to the classroom.

 "It was the path of least resistance," Millen said. "I wanted to get in the college game or at least have that window open and you need a degree to get into the college game."

He had been enrolled in Minnesota's General College program in the '80s, when he helped lead the Gophers on a trio of trips to the NCAA Frozen Four. That program was long gone by 2016, so Millen would need more than 30 credits to complete a degree in recreation, park and leisure studies. The school's degree completion program for athletes meant that the scholarship Millen received back in the early days of the Reagan administration would still cover his tuition.

In the meantime, Gophers coach Don Lucia helped Millen find a pretty cool part-time job.

While Lucia was guiding the Gophers to a fourth consecutive Big Ten title and a top seed in the NCAA tournament last winter, Millen was by his side, working with the team as an undergraduate assistant coach on the ice and in the locker room. It was a win-win for everyone.

"I can't say enough about Corey's contributions last year," Lucia said. "He had a very heavy workload to finish his degree, and he still made a point of being at every game and practice and making himself available whenever he was needed."

contribute where he saw fit. Under NCAA rules, Millen was not allowed to recruit, but he had a hand in nearly every other aspect of the program.

"I didn't have a specific role, but Don and the staff were certainly good about including me and asking my opinion quite often," Millen said. "As a staff, we'd bounce things off each other. On the ice I'd pick and choose times to help out with the boys. I had to find my way a little bit, but that was part of the learning."

The classroom part of things, Millen admits, was often a challenge. Technology, and the campus, have both changed greatly in his 30-some years away from school. Four hours to the east, in Madison, Wis., Millen's old Olympic and NHL teammate Tony Granato was facing a similar challenge, going to class at Wisconsin to complete his degree all while coaching the Badgers.

Millen's major required taking classes in bowling and badminton, which gave current Gophers a healthy supply of material with which to playfully tease their coach. But the ribbing did nothing to quell the drive toward a degree. Plus, just being back in campus neighborhoods like Dinkytown and Stadium Village had a bit of a transformative effect on Millen.

"It spurs a lot of memories and if I take anything away, that would be it," he said. "As soon as I step on campus I shed 30 years, and I'm back to being 22 again, zipping around the 'U.'"

He had one more chance to step onto the floor of Mariucci Arena in May, without the ice. Graduation ceremonies were held at the rink, with thousands of students getting their diplomas, and thousands more friends and family looking on with pride. Alas, Millen opted not to walk in the graduation ceremony. After four years on the ice with the Gophers, another year spent behind their bench, and nearly three decades in between, he can be excused if another few hours at the arena weren't of interest.

But the completion of his degree was an immediate success on the college hockey employment front. In August, Millen joined the coaching staff at the U.S. Air Force Academy for the coming season, drawing high praise from Falcons' coach Frank Serratore for what he expects Millen will bring to the hockey program.

"A glance at his playing resume quickly validates him as an American hockey legend," Serratore said. "Corey brings a tremendous amount of coaching experience to the table as well. His experience as both a player and coach makes him a very attractive addition to our program."

It was one last lesson for Corey Millen. Even decades later, completing the degree he earned by going back to school will last him a lifetime.

Jess Myers is a freelance writer based in Inver Grove Heights, Minn.

 

Issue: 
2017-09

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