Every so often, Aaron Miller runs into guys he played hockey with growing up.
“It’s funny because they ask, ‘How the hell did you make it? I was way better than you,’” Miller said with a smile.
“It’s just a bunch of events and a bunch of people in your life that steer you in the right direction. It all starts with my parents and my family.”
Miller went from West Seneca to Vermont to the National Hockey League. Now he’s going into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.
He was one of 12 athletes, coaches and administrators introduced as the Class of 2015, which will l be inducted in November.
Miller was an All-America defenseman at the University of Vermont and played 14 NHL seasons with Quebec/Colorado, Los Angeles and Vancouver. In 2002 he was on the U.S. Olympic team which won silver in Salt Lake City.
But his professional and international accomplishments were very much rooted in his upbringing in Western New York and his time at St. Francis High School.
“I played top level hockey and I didn’t know any better,” Miller said at Wednesday’s press conference at the Convention Center. “I was a kid playing hockey. I spent my life in Holiday Twin Rinks and Leisure Rinks. I lived there and I loved the game.
“When I was young, I didn’t really think about playing in the NHL. I wasn’t that good. Even when I was 13 years old, I was still second, third line forward. It wasn’t until I got to Frannies when I switched to defense and started to grow and then all of a sudden in a couple years I was getting scholarship offers. It was a great place to play hockey.”
The other inductees include:
Al Bemiller: Selected by the Buffalo Bills in the 1961 College Draft, he had a nine-year career with the Bills. He played both center and guard and was a starter on the AFL Championship teams of 1964 and 1965. He retired from pro football in 1970 and became the head wrestling coach at St. Francis in 1978, winning three Catholic High School Athletic Association titles and had a 27-match winning streak.
Art Clark: Clark dominated local auto racing for more than 50 seasons. He won 19 track championships, was a three-time Eastern Racing Circuit of the Americas Champion and won more than 300 races on both dirt and asphalt. He won 12 championships at his home track, Holland Speedway.
Liz Johnson: She broke gender barriers in bowling by becoming the first woman to qualify for a standard PBA tour event and to win a PBA regional title. She won 11 titles on the Professional Women’s Bowlers Association tour before the league suspended operations. She has seven regional titles and 14 national titles along with more than 60 300-games.
Mike Rappl: The legendary softball coach at Canisius College, Rappl was a seven-time MAAC Coach of the Year honoree and led the Golden Griffins to 13 MAAC regular-season championships, 12 MAAC Tournament crowns and 11 NCAA Division I Softball Tournaments, most recently in 2009. Rappl racked up a career record of 330-124 in league play.
Keith Robinson: A standout for Grover Cleveland, Robinson was named Mr. Basketball in New York and was a McDonald’s High School All-American in 1985-86. Robinson averaged 30.4 points, 22 rebounds and six blocks a game as a senior. He went to Notre Dame where he ranks 38th in career scoring with 1,073 points and earned his degree in psychology. He played professional ball in both the CBA and in Europe.
Robert L. Smith: The Buffalo-born photographer joined The Buffalo News in 1956 and worked as a photo journalist until his retirement in 1995. He also was the Buffalo Bills official photographer for 42 years. His first job with the Bills was to shoot the team’s press photos in 1960 and from there he captured some of the iconic photos of the AFL era team.”
John Tavares: The Buffalo Bandits’ all-time leader in every major offensive category and holds the single-season franchise records for points. He also is the National Lacrosse League’s all-time leader in goals (815), assists (934), points (1,749) and games played (306).
Inducted posthumously as part of the Pride of Western New York:
George Daddario: The Buffalo and Kensington High School grad played seven seasons of minor league baseball, hitting .303 with 53 home runs in 844 games and later became the director of public relations and promotions for the Buffalo Bisons and marketing director of the Buffalo Braves.
David Koch: As chief executive of New Era transformed the family company into a major player in the sports world including supplying every Major League Baseball team and their minor league affiliates with its 59FIFTY fitted cap.
Jim Konstanty: A native of Strykersville he was the National League MVP as a relief pitcher in 1950.
Larry Wilson: Spent 15 seasons with the Buffalo Bisons of the American Hockey League as a player scoring 271 goals and 441 assists in 827 games and coached the team for six seasons.