Bruins sign prospect who had rights renounced by Coyotes due to bullying

The 20-year-old was selected by the Arizona Coyotes in the fourth round (No. 111) of the 2020 NHL Draft on Oct. 7, the Coyotes renounced his rights 22 days later after the Arizona Republic reported Miller was involved in multiple racial bullying incidents with a special needs student, Isaiah Meyer-Crothers, in Sylvania, Ohio when he was 14, which resulted in a conviction in juvenile court. One of the incidents involved Miller and others tricking Meyer-Crothers into consuming a piece of candy that had been wiped on the inside of a urinal.

“I am not going to downplay that this has been a personal struggle as well as a professional struggle as we go through and try and separate the hockey player and the person,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said, adding that he has spent time with Miller, particularly during the past 10 days, and has spent time discussing the signing with his own family.

“Mitchell has paid a punishment and he’s going to continue to carry that for the rest of his life. And we’re going to hold him to a standard that he understands that each and every one of us as individuals look in the mirror every day and respect others and have to be unilaterally inclusive.”

Miller was assigned to Providence of the American Hockey League.

“I think it’s a huge opportunity for me and the Bruins,” he said. “Personally I’m here to better myself off the ice with community stuff, diversity training and being in the community more. The Bruins have offered a lot for me to follow my path. I think I’ll be able to help them on and off the ice.”

The signing has drawn fire from Bruins fans and others across social media. He said the reaction from the Bruins leadership core was much the same as from outside the organization.

“Like, why? Why would you necessarily invite this?” Sweeney said.

Sweeney said the Bruins had done a significant amount of background work on Miller during the past 6-12 months and has spent time with Miller and his family recently. But he also said that the Bruins have not had direct contact with the family of the victim.

“I don’t feel that it was necessary at this point in time to hear both sides of the story, albeit, I think we take Isaiah’s side that this event happened and the culpability lies 100 percent with Mitchell and he needs to live with that and work for the rest of his life to have a better understanding of what it means to respect people and live it,” Sweeney said.

He added, “We feel we’re in a position that when doors were slamming that maybe we would allow one to open up. We felt as an organization we’d be strong enough to do that and hold him to the [Bruins] standard.”

But Sweeney also expressed reservations about the signing, saying that the decision ultimately could be wrong. He said multiple times that the decision is “not about forgiveness.”

“Personally this has been a struggle as to what is right and what is wrong,” he said. “I can’t categorically tell you this is the absolute right decision. This is an opportunity that we’re providing for a young man that is going to work to continue to earn trust and respect as each and every one of us do, every day. My own personal judgement on this wasn’t the final say.”

Miller called the bullying a poor decision and said he regretted it in a statement issued by the Bruins.

“When I was in eighth grade, I made an extremely poor decision and acted very immaturely,” Miller said in the statement. “I bullied one of my classmates. I deeply regret the incident and have apologized to the individual. Since the incident, I have come to better understand the far-reaching consequences of my actions that I failed to recognize and understand nearly seven years ago. I strive to be a better person and positively contribute to society.

“As a member of the Bruins organization, I will continue to participate in community programs to both educate myself and share my mistakes with others to show what a negative impact those actions can have on others. To be clear, what I did when I was 14 years old was wrong and unacceptable. There is no place in this world for being disrespectful to others and I pledge to use this opportunity to speak out against mistreating others.”

Asked why Miller deserves the privilege of playing in the NHL, Sweeney said, “He has to earn the opportunity to play in the NHL as a player. But more importantly, he has to earn the respect of teammates and, really, everywhere in society to garner a second chance.”

Sweeney said Miller would be placed into community programs to continue to educate himself and others, though he declined to be specific about the programs.

Miller said he had been in discussions with other NHL teams but said the Bruins provide him the best opportunity to grow off the ice.

“When I came out to Boston and met with everyone from hockey operations, I sat down, I opened up about what I did,” he said. “And I think they have the best resources for me and the stuff I want to do. I think they can help me the best moving forward with my path, and also how I want to be off the ice, in the community and help talk against bullying as well.”

In addition to having his draft rights renounced, Miller was removed from the University of North Dakota hockey team.

After sitting out the 2020-21 season, Miller played for Tri-City in the United States Hockey League last season. He was named the league’s player of the year and defenseman of the year after tying for the USHL lead with 39 goals and leading all defensemen with 83 points.

Bruins president Cam Neely said members of Boston’s hockey operations and community relations staffs spent time with Miller.

“Representing the Boston Bruins is a privilege we take seriously as an organization,” Neely said. “Respect and integrity are foundational character traits we expect of our players and staff. Prior to signing Mitchell, our hockey operations and community relations groups spent time with him over the last few weeks to better understand who he is as an individual and learn more about a significant mistake he made when he was in middle school. During this evaluation period, Mitchell was accountable for his unacceptable behavior and demonstrated his commitment to work with multiple organizations and professionals to further his education and use his mistake as a teachable moment for others. The expectation is that he will continue this important educational work with personal development and community programs as a member of the Bruins organization.”

When the Coyotes renounced Miller’s draft rights, the team said it was aware of the bullying incident with Miller but hoped to work with him.

“Prior to selecting Mitchell in the NHL Draft, we were aware that a bullying incident took place in 2016,” Coyotes president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez said at the time. “We do not condone this type of behavior but embraced this as a teachable moment to work with Mitchell to make him accountable for his actions and provide him with an opportunity to be a leader on anti-bullying and anti-racism efforts. We have learned more about the entire matter, and more importantly, the impact it has had on Isaiah and the Meyer-Crothers family. What we learned does not align with the core values and vision for our organization and leads to our decision to renounce our draft rights.

“On behalf of the Arizona Coyotes ownership and our entire organization, I would like to apologize to Isaiah and the Meyer-Crothers family. We are building a model franchise on and off the ice and will do the right thing for Isaiah and the Meyer-Crothers family, our fans and our partners. Mr. Miller is now a free agent and can pursue his dream of becoming an NHL player elsewhere.” independent correspondent Mark Divver contributed to this report

Photo: Tri-City Storm

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