I hadn’t had a desk at the arena very long before Kevin Snow sent me downstairs to work on my first feature for the program. Go downstairs and grab Miller. Just go grab the team’s biggest star and see if he’s got a few minutes to spare. No big deal.
So I went downstairs armed with a barrel of questions – some relevant to the task at hand, others not so much – and I spent about an hour sitting across from a guy who I’d practically idolized the last handful of years.
See, Dominik Hasek is why I wanted to be a goalie. Rolling around the crease, making spectacular saves. You couldn’t find a better idol for a young kid playing house at West Seneca. There were plenty of other reasons I was inspired to play goal. The gear, the masks, but Hasek was the cornerstone of it all.
Ryan Miller, is who is responsible for me truly falling in love with goaltending.
The league was locked out my freshman year of college. I remember trying to follow the Amerks as best I could from Cleveland and scoring tickets to one of their cameos in Buffalo that year. Miller’s eventual arrival coincided with the years I played for John Carroll. It was perfect timing. His fluid precision was a joy to watch. I did my best to model my play after his.
He was really the first athlete I truly tried to do that with. And not long after that, there I was sitting with him discussing his offseason training, his role on the league’s competition committee and a host of other topics. We eventually boiled down to talking gear, as most goalies do, and he even gave me some insider info on how some of the goalies in the league at that time cheated the system. It was a great conversation, and I can think of no better baptism for that job than getting to shoot the shit with Ryan Miller for a while.
Throughout the course of the year there were small interactions – almost all gear focused – that have stuck with me. Not so much because I got to talk about goalie gear with Ryan Miller, but because he took the time to remember that sliver of information about the skinny kid who worked in PR.
Of course, I’d been following him closely even before that year I spent with the Sabres. It was a treat to have such an up close look at what he did on a daily basis in practice or in games. He wasn’t a goalie who just tried to get hit with the puck. In an era where blocking goalies were prevalent, he had a unique way of always looking so composed in his movement in net. Like everything was playing out according to a script. His footwork and movement in the crease was fluid and his ability to read the play set him apart from so many of his peers. He had a swagger to his game as well that I always felt was particularly notable during shootouts. He stayed out of his stance longer than you might expect and he had a fake poke check he would mix in from time to time as well. There was just so many layers to his game, I could analyze and break down his play for hours if given the opportunity.
I’m not sure if I’d have the same relationship with goaltending that I do today had Miller not come along. My college career was hardly notable, but I craved to play more no matter what. Miller and his prime years in Buffalo have a lot to do with that.
We all love this stupid team for one reason or another. Miller’s 10-plus years serve as cornerstone of my connection to the Sabres and to goaltending as a whole.