​​Bruins leaders air concerns over Mitchell Miller signing: ‘A tough thing to hear’

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TORONTO — About a week ago, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney approached Patrice Bergeron. Sweeney asked Bergeron’s opinion on signing Mitchell Miller, the free-agent USHL defenseman prospect who scored 39 goals and 83 points in 60 games for the Tri-City Storm last season. Miller has been considered toxic by most NHL teams because of his racist comments toward and repeated mistreatment of Isaiah Meyer-Crothers when he was 14.

The captain told Sweeney the truth.

“I had my concerns,” Bergeron said. “I shared my opinion. In a way, I was not necessarily agreeing with it. To be honest with you, the culture that we’ve built here goes against that type of behavior. We’re a team that’s built something about character, character people and individuals. What he did, obviously, is unacceptable. We don’t stand by that.

“For me, I know for myself anyways, in this locker room, we’re all about inclusion, diversity, respect. Those are key words and core values we have. We expect guys to wear this jersey to be high-character people with integrity and respect. That’s how they should be acting.

“My understanding is he’s going to put in the work in development programs and community programs to better himself. It’s up to him to do that. That’s it. From my standpoint, it’s a hockey operations decision. For myself, we can control what we can control. Truthfully, hopefully there’s some growth and change. If it’s the same 14-year-old that would be walking into this locker room, he wouldn’t be accepted and wanted and welcomed in this locker room, to be honest with you. That’s my stand on it.”

It didn’t dissuade Sweeney from signing Miller, as the team announced Friday.

On Saturday, Bergeron, alternate captain Brad Marchand and ex-Columbus captain Nick Foligno addressed the situation prior to the Bruins’ game against the Maple Leafs. All three were dissatisfied.

Meanwhile, at the Global Series in Finland, commissioner Gary Bettman told The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline that the Bruins did not notify the league of the signing. Miller would not be eligible to play without NHL clearance. Bettman said he would have to see “a whole bunch of things” before making Miller eligible.

Here’s what else the Bruins’ leaders had to say about the signing and its impact.

Bergeron on whether the signing could harm the team culture:

“Our culture’s not going to change. Our culture is what it is. It’s something I’m proud of. It’s something we’ve worked hard for. We don’t need to change that. The changes are from the individual himself.”

Marchand on the signing:

“We understand the dynamics around it. We have a culture in this organization, in this room. We obviously don’t condone what happened. That will never be part of our team and our organization. If he’s with our group, it will be because he’s shown that he’s learned and matured and he’s come a long way. It’s going to be a very long process for him. That’s on him. At the end of the day, we can only control what we can, and that’s what’s in our room. If that time ever comes, it will be dealt with when it needs to. As of right now, it’s a long process for him.”

Marchand on having to speak on the situation in the midst of a 10-1-0 start:

“We’re a group. Anything that happens at any point of the year, we all go through it together. That’s always been how this works. The organization’s had to go through things with me that I’m sure they haven’t wanted to deal with. It’s not all good and it’s not all bad. You go with the ebbs and flows. You deal with it as a group. This is another situation.”

Marchand on why now:

“With a situation like that, I’m not sure there’s ever good timing. It’s just one of those things where if they feel like it’s the time, then it’s the time. It’s a long process for this kid to make amends or show he’s learned and come a long way. That process has to start at some point. I guess it’s now.”

Marchand on whether it makes it harder on the players:

“If the kid’s going to be part of this room, we have a standard that we hold our teammates to, to be in this room. If we don’t feel like he’s there, then he will not be here. That’s like with anybody. If there’s a guy that comes in and he’s not fitting in, he’s gone. We’ve shown that year after year. I understand where it all comes from. But again, if he ever makes it here, it’ll be because he’s shown that he has learned and come the distance he’s needed to.

“There’s a lot that comes with this, a lot of backlash and media attention the team’s going through right now. He’s got a lot of work to do. It’s a second chance he’s been gifted. He’s going to have to show that he earns it. He’s got a long, long road ahead of him.”

Foligno on the signing:

“It’s tough. It’s a really hard topic. First and foremost, the organization is not going to do something that would jeopardize that. But in saying that, it’s not something anyone in this room stands for. The culture we’ve built and these guys have built before I got here is one of inclusion. I think it goes against that. I understand he was 14 when he made this mistake. But it’s hard for us to swallow. Because we take a lot of pride in here in the way we act, the way we carry ourselves, what it is to be a Bruin. So that was a tough thing to hear for our group.

“I’m not going to lie to you. I don’t think any guy was too happy because of how proud we are to say this is a group that cares a lot about ourselves, how we carry ourselves and how we treat people. So that was, for a lot of guys, especially the ones that have been here, a tough pill to swallow. In the same light, I don’t think the organization’s ever not looking out for the best interests of us. But I think we have a lot of concerns. This kid will have to answer for those and will have to prove to everybody and himself, especially if he wants to get in this room, that he’s a changed man. We hope he works toward that.

“But I think right now, our room is more worried about the group in here and what we’re doing. It’s a special thing we’ve got going on here. We’re not going to let something like that ever come into our room.”

Foligno on whether the signing puts a burden on Bergeron as captain:

“Yes and no. Being a leader never comes without some adversity. Bergy’s a guy that can handle it. But I think he’s always going to stay true to himself. Whether he likes what they did or not, he’s not going to be the company man. This comes down to morals. Bergy’s a guy that’s always stood by his morals. I don’t think he’s happy, obviously. None of us are, really, with the situation. At the same token, it’s the reality that we’re faced with, whether we wanted it or not. What’s going to happen in here, we’re going to band together. Because that’s what Bergy does. He brings everybody together and makes us understand that’s not going to infect this room. Because this room’s built on the principles that this kid obviously went against.

“It’s a tough spot to Bergy in. All of us in this situation. That’s not to pit us against the organization. I know (president) Cam (Neely) and Sweens are always trying to do what’s best for the organization and wouldn’t, without vetting, probably do this. But still, it’s a hard one for us to swallow because there’s still a thing there that this kid obviously did very wrong and hurt somebody. I don’t think any guy in here stands for that.”

(Top photo of Patrice Bergeron: Jessica Rinaldi / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

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