GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In her first season at Aquinas College, Lisa Brown-Miller is trying to build not only a women’s hockey team, but also a program.

“It is a bit of a challenge, however I think it’s gone great,” Brown-Miller said. “I came into the season knowing that there would be challenges — we don’t have a whole lot of numbers. But every day is exciting with this team and I really enjoy working with them. They really, really work hard.”

But to her players, she’s much more than just a coach: She’s an icon.

“It’s been great,” junior goalie Ally Kennedy said. “I mean, what she’s already done for the program has been awesome and give it a couple of years and I think she can really build something here. It’s just great having her here on the ice and having her knowledge of the game.”

“It’s just really exciting to have that knowledge and that experience,” senior defenseman Maria Maguire added.

Brown-Miller is a pioneer who helped create opportunities for other women who love hockey.

“It’s incredible,” junior defenseman Amelia Bartels said. “We were looking her up on Wikipedia before the season and we were just all in awe of her list of things and experiences on there, and just to hear her talk about it has really been an experience.”

Brown-Miller was introduced to hockey in the early 1970s when she was just 6 years old.

“A neighbor boy was playing hockey and he was a goalie,” Brown-Miller recalled. “Back then, that’s when the molded face mask were coming around and he had the big goalie gear, so that was just cool. So I went home and told my mom and dad that I thought I’d really like to play hockey. And the next thing I knew, an interest became a passion.”

She played on boys teams as a youngster and joined one of the very few Detroit-area girls travel teams as a teen.

“I think I was probably a sophomore or junior in high school when I figured out there was college hockey,” Brown-Miller said,” and then started trying to tackle that.”

The dream took her to Providence College in Rhode Island.

“I didn’t even know if I could play for the team,” she said. “I just wanted to go and make the team. Whether or not I was going to play, I wasn’t sure at that point.”

Brown-Miller not only made the team, but played all four years. As a senior, she was named the player of the year by both the Eastern College Athletic Conference and American Women’s Hockey Coaches Association.

“As my playing life took its forward path, doors would open,” she said. “I was kind of right at the cusp as the doors would open. So when I was done playing college, the first national team was a couple of years later.”

She is one of only three women to play on six U.S. national teams. When women’s hockey was added to the Olympics for the first time in 1998, she set her sights on that.

“I went to those tryouts and got invited back to the next tryout, and then the next tryout and then eventually, yeah, made the Olympic team,” she recalled, smiling.

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In February 1998, Brown-Miller and her USA teammates beat favored Canada to win gold in the inaugural women’s hockey Olympic gold medal championship game in Nagano, Japan.

“The whole nostalgia of thing of being an American, and you know, having the USA on your jersey and hearing the anthem,” Brown-Miller described the medal ceremony. “Just even speaking about it right now gives me goosebumps. You get a real sense of pride representing your country and wanting to do you country proud, as well as your teammates and your team. So it’s the pinnacle of a women’s hockey career.”

In November 2019, shortly after taking over at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Brown-Miller and her teammates were inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame. Her teammates voted to have Brown-Miller accept the award and speak on their behalf.

“It’s like your family away from family,” Brown-Miller said. “These people were a part of a chapter my life that is unforgettable and it’s retold time and time again, and it is something that we’re proud of because look at where it’s taken the program.”