After graduating from Princeton University and serving in the Navy, Harry Rulon-Miller was looking to teach abroad as he headed into 1961.
But not having any solid prospects overseas, Rulon-Miller was steered to a teaching opening at his high school alma mater, the Princeton Country Day School (PCD).
Rulon-Miller took the opportunity and through the homecoming, found a permanent home.
While Rulon-Miller had some teaching stints in Greece and Colorado, he never left PCD as it merged with Miss Fine’s School to become the Princeton Day School. Rulon-Miller, a hockey star at both PCD and Princeton, added coaching to his portfolio.
After leaving teaching, Rulon-Miller stayed at PDS to run the newly opened McGraw Rink in 1998. He morphed into an “ambassador” of hockey as a constant presence at rink, keeping things running like clockwork and nurturing generations of hockey players. The homey atmosphere he helped create at the rink made it a favorite stop for skaters, hockey players, fans, and parents alike.
Earlier this month, Rulon-Miller, 78, left his hockey home in the hands of others as he formally retired from his position of coordinator of hockey operations.
Fittingly, Rulon-Miller was granted the honor of making a ceremonial puck drop before PDS hosted Lawrenceville on January 15, drawing cheers from a packed house at McGraw.
“Through the good auspices of the Lawrenceville presence of people, they just had to be there, and the good presence of us, it was just nice,” said Rulon-Miller, in his raspy voice, the product of a battle with throat cancer 10 years ago.
Rulon-Miller has been a constant presence for the PDS hockey program, serving as an assistant varsity coach from 1965-68 before becoming head coach. He guided the squad until 1982 when he turned it over the Buzz Woodworth. He then coached juniors and helped with other PDS teams. When the outdoor rink on campus was converted to the indoor McGraw Rink, he managed the rink as well as handling scheduling for all the PDS teams.
In the view of PDS Director of Athletics Tim Williams, the retirement of Rulon-Miller signals the end of an era.
“I don’t think you can sum it up in a few words, Harry basically is PDS hockey,” said Williams of Rulon-Miller, who graduated from PCD in 1951 when it only went through the ninth grade and is a 1958 Princeton alum.
“He is an institution. It is exciting to see him retire on one hand but it is also sad. It will be bittersweet to not have him around all the time. He has done everything at the rink from sharpening skates to driving the Zamboni to doing all the scheduling. He cares for the people who come here and he wants them to have a good experience.”
Williams, who came to PDS in 2011, credits Rulon-Miller with helping to ease his transition to the school.
“He has a great wealth of knowledge about the school and hockey,” said Williams. “He really helped me as a southern boy coming to New Jersey to learn about PDS, hockey, and the history of the school.”
Rulon-Miller’s eyes light up through his trademark horn-rimmed glasses when he starts talking about the history of PDS hockey.
“I took over in 1968 or 1969 and that first team was very, very unusual because it had probably some of the best kinds of kids who worked together nicely,” said Rulon-Miller, noting that the late Christopher Reeve ’70 was the goalie on the first team.
“We were invited to go up to the Milton Tournament in Boston in December, 1969, and this little old school from New Jersey, within 24 hours, walked away with the championship. We had a nice little crew of about 15 kids. We had three rotations that featured a defensive cluster of players who just were magnificent and had some forward lines that wouldn’t quit.”
A key step in the lore of the program was the founding of its annual 4-team invitational tournament in 1971.
“It was a very exciting time because it was the first years that we were going head-to-head against Lawrenceville,” said Rulon-Miller.
“For those years and many after that, PDS, Lawrenceville, and Hill were the main protagonists. We would invite other schools as well, sometimes it was a club or a team from Philadelphia or whatever.”
The event was renamed in Rulon-Miller’s honor in 2012. “I thought it was quite appropriate because I put my time in on it, number one, and I was there at the beginning,” said Rulon-Miller, reflecting on the honor. “I love to write the solicitation letters, I just hope I don’t repeat myself.”
For Rulon-Miller, putting in his time at the rink has been a labor of love.
“I know basically starting with spectators and going through officials, figure skaters, ice hockey teams, they love to come here,” said Rulon-Miller.
“Some of it is me and some is doing a lot of little things. The other hockey teams know that they don’t have to bring pucks along. I tell the opposing team’s coaches, especially if they have young kids, keep an eye on your players they are going to get lost on the benches because these are the biggest things you will ever see. You can even develop a hockey strategy of coming out one door and the other guy coming out the other. You are going to love the warming rooms. We feel offended if the opposing coach comes in and asks us for a broom to sweep out their locker room.”
It is going to be hard for Rulon-Miller to take his eye off the rink. “I think being a part of the world at the rink,” said Rulon-Miller, when asked what he will miss most in retirement.
“Whether it is the skaters at the skating club, the PDS programs, watching these little kids troop in or cheerleading our interscholastic teams. I rejoice in the fact that a girl who started hockey in the ninth grade ends up being a captain of the team by her senior year. I have been quietly proselytizing girls to join the ice hockey because it is such a fantastic sport. Boys and girls who are rookies have a chance to really have fun here.”
Working with his colleagues in handling the nuts and bolts of managing the rink has also been fun for Rulon-Miller.
“These people in the PE department and the facilities department which I have been especially close with over the last 15 years are supporters who are just cool,” said Rulon-Miller. “I am going to miss them as being a part of whatever it is.”
Rulon-Miller has enjoyed the support of the coaches that have succeeded him in guiding the program.
“I have also gotten to know some different coaches who were very terrific in their own ways,” noted Rulon-Miller.
“From a Graham Craig who came to PDS and left in the early 70s. He was an NCAA champion with Michigan in 1954 and was courageous enough to come and coach our team at the varsity level when we needed him in the 80s. Chris Barcless is one of the best teachers of skating or hockey I have seen around. His biggest forte was preparing for a game. Then there is the present associate athletic director, Scott Bertoli, who has a phenomenal way with kids as kids, school as school, and sportsmen as sportsmen as anyone I have ever met. He may be the coach of hockey but his door is open in a special way to all athletes and their coaches.
Bertoli, for his part, has a special respect for Rulon-Miller. “In his 49 or 50 years with the school, Harry has been a huge part of the hockey program as a player, coach, and managing the rink,” said Bertoli.
“He is the face of the rink and the program. He has been a tremendous resource for me for the history of the program. He has helped me to get to know the alums. He has tremendous respect for the longstanding rivalries and their historical significance.”
Rulon-Miller’s example has inspired Bertoli and his players to go the extra mile to get better.
“There have been ups and downs and for us to rebuild it and have some very good seasons here recently is important to the coaching staff, players, and alums,” added Bertoli. “It has made Harry happy.”
Bertoli admires the manner in which Rulon-Miller dispenses important tips to the players.
“What I like is the way he gives kids advice, it is not so much about the Xs and Os, but carrying yourself the right way,” said Bertoli.
“It is all about representing your school in the right way, respecting the game and your opponent, and upholding the integrity of the game.”
As a result of Rulon-Miller’s desire to do things the right way, opponents view coming to McGraw Rink as a treat.
“We played Chatham, one of the top public programs in the state, last Friday,” recalled Bertoli.
“Even before the game, their coach came up to me and said he couldn’t thank us enough for the hospitality, people were pointing them in the right direction and being outgoing. He said they were really having a neat experience and that they would like to come here every year. That is all Harry. That is the atmosphere he wants and has created.”
As Rulon-Miller reflects on his decision to retire, one gets the sense that he might make time to come back to McGraw on occasion to savor that atmosphere.
“I found out that I had been working too hard as a part-time employee,” said Rulon-Miller with a grin.
“I have a great sense of something being lifted off on one hand and a case of what do I do next. I am not the kind who can sit in a hammock.”