Haverhill boy, 6, counts Bruins players among his fan club
Published: April 01, 2009 04:40 pm   

By Joni Quinn


Six-year-old Joey Miller of Haverhill got the surprise of a lifetime at the Boston Bruins game on March 19 against the Los Angeles Kings a tour of the Bruins locker room with Boston Bruin Shawn Thornton.

Earlier this season, Thornton and fellow Bruin Mark Stuart participated in the Muscular Dystrophy Association's 2009 Muscle Team dinner, where professional athletes put their muscle behind the search to find treatments for neuromuscular disease.

At the dinner, Joey and Thornton were paired as "muscle buddies," where Joey spent the night showing Thornton every aspect of the building.

"Shawn was fantastic. He spent at least three hours talking with us, playing with Joey and keeping him occupied. Joey had the time of his life," said Eric Miller, Joey's father.

"Shawn was chasing him all around and was exhausted by end of the night," said Dena Miller, Joey's mother.

As part of the program, Joey was invited to attend the Bruins game on March 19 as Thornton's personal guest. Joey had the chance to "high-five" each member of the team as they left the locker room to go on the ice.

"Shawn came out and said 'there's my buddy' and fist-bumped him," Eric said. "I really can't say enough about him. He was fantastic. Everyone there really were just amazing. The fact that Shawn took him into the locker room after the game was just great."

By the end of the night, Joey left the building with a signed Thornton puck, Thornton- and Stuart-autographed pictures, an autographed Thornton jersey, a hockey stick autographed by the Bruins team and a lifetime's worth of memories.

"It was so much fun," Joey said.

Thornton was also pleased Joey could attend his game.

"It was great having Joey at the game. I really wanted to win it for him," Thornton said.

Not only was it a memorable night for Joey but for his family as well, whose favorite sport is hockey. Joey's mother, Dena, said her son has been fixated by hockey ever since he was a baby.

"He'd just stare at the TV and just giggle and giggle. He loved it," Dena said.

Joey was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy type 2 at 18 months old. Since his diagnosis, his family has been active supporters of the SMA, an organization that supports those with spinal muscular atrophy and their families, and the MDA, the Muscular Dystrophy Association probably best known by its most famous patron, Jerry Lewis, and the annual Labor Day telethon.

"We are going to get involved in any organization that is going to help our son," said Eric Miller, Joey's father, who sits on the board of directors of the New England Chapter of SMA.

When he's not cheering on the Bruins, Joey is playing power wheel soccer at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. Organized by Northeast Passages, power soccer is the first competitive team sport designed for power wheelchair users. Using the speed and power of the chair, players maneuver a 13-inch ball around the court.

"It's inspiring for him because they are all his peers no matter what their age because they are all in chairs. It's definitely a confidence booster for him and he loves to compete," Eric said.

Joey's confidence in the sport has grown so much, he was 'trash talking' members of the New England Revolution major league soccer team, Eric said laughing at the memory.

"When I'm in goal I don't let anything by me. I'm pretty good ; I think I scare them," Joey said.

Next year, Joey will try his luck at skiing, alongside his parents who have skied most of their lives. Eric said when Dena was pregnant with Joey, he would say that as soon as his son was old enough to stand he was going to put him on skis. Eric's dream of a son who skis was temporarily dashed when they received Joey's diagnosis, but has since come to realize that his son is capable of almost anything.

"It took me a while to figure that out. I just have to tweak my thinking to figure out a way to get him to do it. He's smart enough and has the drive to do anything he wants," Eric said.

In his spare time, Joey created a Web site that shows a slideshow of his own favorite works of art and pictures of him to the Jonas Brothers song "That's Just the Way we Roll." Dena sent a link to the Web site to the Jonas Brothers. The family was shocked when the musicians sent a reply.

"We are so impressed. Man, you have made a great video and you should be so proud of yourself," wrote the Jonas Brothers. "It is your heart that defines you and we can tell that you have a wonderful, full of love heart. We need friends and fans like you to help us make this world a better place to be. You inspire us."

Joey's page is at www.our-sma-angels.com/joey/Default.htm.