Ryan Miller has the look of a champion as he sets his sights on helping the U.S. Men’s Olympic Team return to the medals podium in Vancouver.
Ryan miller is still just a bit perturbed about what many Americans considered an egregious mistake leading up to a recent Olympic hockey tournament.
And no, it has nothing to do with his omission from the 2006 Team USA roster for Torino, Italy. That didn’t upset him then and doesn’t today.
But how, pray tell, did the folks in Salt Lake City allow that Canadian Loonie to be buried at center ice? Ugh!
“We made a little mistake there,” the Buffalo Sabres goaltender says with a chuckle.
Miller will be out to help the Americans enact revenge of sorts – on top of the ice – at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The 29-year-old native of East Lansing, Mich., has been one of, if not the, best goalie in the National Hockey League this season.
And when Team USA’s roster is announced during the NHL’s Winter Classic from Fenway Park on Jan. 1, Miller will hear his named called.
“In all honesty, you couldn’t catch a guy at a better time in his career,” says Jim Johannson, assistant executive director of USA Hockey. “He’s arguably the best performing goalie in the league right now. The numbers say it all.”
Indeed they do. Through nine weeks of the NHL season, Miller was No. 1 in goals-against average (1.97) and save percentage (.932), and second in victories (16).
He has never felt better about his game.
“Personally I feel I’m playing a style that I can maintain for an entire season,” Miller says. “I feel good about my positioning and my footwork and my stance. When you feel good about those three things, you’re going to have a good chance to stop the puck.”
Playing for Team USA will be very special for Miller.
“It’s a great tournament and a great showcase. You’re up against the best in the world,” Miller says. “You combine that with a chance to represent your country and it’s a unique experience. Hopefully I’m going well enough that the coaching staff can lean on me for a few games.”
Miller has heard the Olympic questions pretty much since training camp. He has not let it impact his game in the least.
“Everything revolves on the way I’m playing with the Buffalo Sabres,” he says. “My responsibility and my job are to be the best I can for the Buffalo Sabres.”
Miller was believed to be one of the front-runners for the 2006 Winter Games until he broke a bone in his hand. Uncertainty as to his recovery time-table and his play when he was healthy, USA Hockey officials chose Rick DiPietro, John Grahame and Robert Esche as the goalies.
“At the time, those three guys had more NHL playing time than me,” says Miller, who was in only his second full season in the NHL back then . “I was coming off an injury and the only thing I had going for me was a good season in the American League [with the Rochester Americans during the NHL lockout of 2004-05].
“It wasn’t like I was holding a grudge ever. It seems like the media was more upset about it than I ever was.”
While Miller has worn the Team USA sweater three times in international competition, he has never played in the Olympics.
The experience will be like no other, says John Vanbiesbrouck, who played goal for the Americans in the 1998 Nagano Winter Games.
“The tournament is unusually different because there are a lot of unknown factors,” Vanbiesbrouck says. “What are my teammates like, what are their tendencies in certain situations. As a goalie, you’re way out of your comfort zone.”
Since goalies can be a little more temperamental than skaters, that’s never a good thing.
“Goalies have a tendency to have whiskers – like a cat – and those whiskers provide comfort,” Vanbiesbrouck says. “But you just have to have faith in your abilities. As a goalie, you’re the glue guy.
“There’s a lot of talent on every team, obviously, so it’s the solidarity among the players on a team, how you galvanize as a team, that leads to success.”
There’s another major difference from the goalie’s NHL mindset. In an 82-game season, there will be not-so-good nights. In the Olympic tournament, one bad game can mean no medal round.
“It’s a sprint, it’s not a marathon,” Vanbiesbrouck says. “During the NHL season, you can say, ‘I had a bad game, I can put it behind me.’ You can’t put a bad game behind you in the Olympics.”
So what is Miller’s biggest worry about the upcoming Vancouver Games? Tickets.
“My parents and my siblings are going to come, and a lot of other family members are making plans,” he says. “I’m trying to accommodate as many people as possible. I hope they understand if I can’t make miracles happen.”
Hey, wait a minute. Aren’t the Olympics where miracles do happen?
Kevin Oklobzija covers hockey for the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat & Chronicle.