As a kid aspiring to be a goalie, Matt Millar drew inspiration from the posters on his wall. It was 1990, and Millar saw fit to hang a picture of Edmonton Oilers goalie Bill Ranford, among others.
Ranford set the hockey world on fire that spring on his way to the Conn Smythe Trophy. Millar was in elementary school, and he could have never imagined that he would eventually work with Ranford as a goalie coach for the Kings.
The thought “wasn’t in the same realm or universe,” Millar said. “[Now], working alongside those guys, Bill and [former Kings goalie coach] Dusty [Imoo], I think you look up to those guys. It wasn’t shocking, but an eye-opener that you’ve got to show up and you’ve got to work.”
Millar, 37, officially became part of the Kings’ staff last week when he was hired as a goaltending development coach, a position previously held by Imoo to work with the organization’s goalie prospects. Ranford remains the team’s primary goalie coach.
It’s a significant hire, not only because goaltending is a franchise strength, but because Millar is tasked with filling Imoo’s shoes. Imoo, who left this summer to coach in the Kontinental Hockey League, helped develop Jack Campbell and Cal Petersen. Campbell turned his career around and finished third in the NHL with a .928 save percentage and fifth with a 2.30 goals-against average. Petersen showed he is the goalie of the future even as he backstopped the last-place Ontario Reign last season.
The hiring also makes Millar a homegrown story. He grew up in El Segundo, where the Kings currently practice, and his father, Peter, was the Kings’ equipment manager from 1989 to 2006. Much of his childhood took place at NHL rinks around NHL players.
“I spent a lot of time in the Great Western Forum,” Millar said. “Culver City Ice Arena. The Iceoplex [in the San Fernando Valley]. I spent a lot of my time missing school days.”
Millar wanted to be a goalie because he liked the colorful equipment. His mask featured an eagle design modeled after that of former NHL goalie Ed Belfour. Millar landed at Bethel College in Minnesota, and he is the first to say his playing career was modest. He became an assistant coach at Bethel and later an assistant coach for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the U.S. Hockey League.
For the better part of the past five years, Millar has coached at Kings’ development camps, under Ranford and Imoo, who have provided an example for how to balance the technical and psychological aspects of being a trusted goalie coach.
“Being around Bill and Dusty, one of the things I’ve learned is that they know their technical stuff, but the way they present that info and how they get the goaltender to believe in themselves — they’re all completely different but they step in the crease and love what they’re doing,” Millar said. “Having passion for being the best goalie they can be is what Bill and Dusty are about.”
Millar recently met up with Petersen, mostly just to talk, and there was a small-world-twist because Petersen’s father, Eric, was also a goalie at Bethel.
Their relationship will likely lead to a starting goalie job for the 24-year-old Petersen, who showed he could be NHL ready with an 11-game look last season. But he must bide his time behind Campbell and Jonathan Quick.
“He knows himself and knows his game really well, and he’s really mature about how he wants to go about making hockey a long career,” Millar said of Petersen.
If there’s one aspect that Petersen and Millar share, it’s that both know about paying dues in the goalie ranks. Millar has stood behind the bench for the U.S. in international events, and also as a scout for the Arizona Coyotes. He has worked with goalies who have been cut from other teams or seek to get to the next level.
Throughout it all, he hasn’t forgotten that poster on his wall.
“To have Bill, with that kind of pedigree, to believe in you … is a really big confidence booster,” he said. “For me, it really encourages me to work harder and grow.”