Meet the trainer that helped Kevan Miller become a Bruins mainstay

Matt Kalman
February 15, 2019 - 1:27 pm

Dave Eastham likes to tell a story that epitomizes Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller's work ethic.

A while back a couple teenagers that train with Eastham, a performance coach at Fitness Edge in Valencia, California, ran into Miller at physical therapy and reported the encounter to Eastham.

The trainer asked if the kids introduced themselves to the NHLer, but they said that they didn’t have a chance.

“He had gotten there 30 minutes before his appointment and immediately jumped up on a foam roller and began warming up for his therapy appointment. That’s just who he is, when he does something, like, he does it, there’s no messing around,” Eastham explained to WEEI.com during a phone call earlier this month.

That work ethic is one element of Miller’s persona that’s turned him from a marginal NHL defenseman at age 26 to a mainstay on Boston’s blue line at 31. Miller heads into the Bruins’ back-to-back road games against Anaheim and Los Angeles this weekend second on the all-time games played list among players who were born and raised in California (Matt Nieto of Colorado is slightly ahead of Miller).

There were never any  guarantees Miller would make it this far, and several coaches and influences have aided his evolution along the way. But Miller’s decision to begin working out regularly with Eastham was a major turning point.

“He’s been a true blessing to work with,” Miller recently told WEEI.com.

Miller wanted to stay healthier after a shoulder injury kept him out for half the season in 2014-15. He also could see how hockey was changing and how he could be left behind if he didn’t become more mobile and  flexible. As Miller described it, “I couldn’t lift my arms above my head without sweating.”

Miller had met Eastham when he and some friends took Eastham’s kickboxing class. They sat down one day in the summer of 2015 to see if they could forge a productive partnership. Eastham, who had little experience training hockey players, knew right away what he thought would work best for Miller. First, he wanted Miller to stop beating up his body.

“And I think the thing that kind of sold him was, he’s already made it. He doesn’t have to destroy himself training to make it into the league because he’s already there,” Eastham recalled. “So our first thing was, let’s not get hurt training, let’s stay healthy through the offseason by just being smart and training smarter and just … basically cutting out the risk and looking for benefits.”

The philosophy might seem reasonable now, but for an undrafted player who worked his way from a non-traditional hockey market as a kid to prep school in New England to the American Hockey League and eventually the NHL by outworking his competition, it would be a major adjustment. Miller, though, knew something had to change for him to really thrive while living his NHL dream.

“Yeah, because you start to think about that in your head, like ‘what are other guys doing?’ If they’re doing something I want to make sure I’m doing that plus more. For me to stay in the league, and to get there, you have to do more,” Miller said. “So that was my kind of goal when I was working out in the summers to make sure I was coming into camp ahead of where other guys were. And it was tougher for me to kind of realize [I didn’t have to].

“He’s like ‘hey you need to do more … we need to spend more time doing mobility and stretching and recovery than spending it moving weight around and trying to get bigger, stronger and faster always. But I actually reaped the benefits right away. I came into camp fresher.

When you’re willing to sacrifice your body to block every shot and make every hit, you’re going to have injuries. Miller missed 26 games this season, but there’s no workout that will help someone stay on the ice after taking a puck to the hand or larynx.

A healthier Miller has also managed to add the mobility he wanted to his game. Despite being a late bloomer, Miller’s offensive game has adapted with the speedier NHL. His first pass out of the zone has come miles from where it was when he first broke into the league, and his improved mobility shows up defensively as well when he executes the Bruins’ game plan of cuttingh off plays at the blue lines to avoid the risk of getting hemmed in the defensive zone.

Working out four days a week with Eastham in the summer, Miller incorporates mobility exercises into every session regardless of the main focus. We see the results on the ice, and Miller feels them.

“So I think before I was less mobile in my hips and my ankles, my knees,” Miller said about his time before getting together with Eastham. “Even my upper back, my T-spine mobility, and things like that. So I think because I was moving a lot of weight before in the wrong way and that creates bad habits and that translates on the ice. So I think he’s kind of helped me become a better mobile athlete.”

Eastham still has to scale back Miller’s work. When the season ends, Eastham commands Miller to take time off before getting back into the gym. It’s not as difficult for Miller to obey because everything Eastham’s prescribed has worked and gotten Miller this far. Even now, there’s no telling how much better he can get.

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