**This piece was written before the Sabres 3-2 victory over the Canucks on Saturday
Attention has focused directly on Ryan Miller for this weekend’s matchup against the Vancouver Canucks. There will be intense emotions streaming throughout the First Niagara Center as fans, players, coaches and other staff members reflect on the 11 seasons that the Michigan native spent in between the pipes for the Buffalo Sabres.
It will be a different situation for Miller when he skates onto the ice wearing blue, white and green. I know, that sounded pretty good up until the green was mentioned. Miller was traded to the St. Louis Blues on a night that went from routine to hectic. It became a scramble to find an additional goaltender when it was announced that a trade had been made a mere half hour before puck drop. Steve Ott and Ryan Miller were exchanged for Jaroslav Halak and Chris Stewart on March 1, 2014.
Miller had an opportunity to play in Buffalo during his time as a Blue but was in the middle of recovering from a knee injury. He is now healthy and ready to go as he attempts to get the Canucks their seventh win of the season.
Miller was a goaltender that fans would watch even when the puck was in the offensive zone. There was a heavy amount of interest in his personality, his demeanor and his superstitions. He is truly the second best goaltender in Sabres history, sitting right behind arguably the best of all time, Dominic Hasek. The Dominator graced the ice with an ability to stop a puck from all types of angles whether he was sprawled out, caught out of position or practically tackling an oncoming skater. Miller took a much different approach relying on standard goaltending mechanics. He was rarely caught out of position and used his light frame of 170lbs to move gracefully between each pipe.
The Sabres that played along with Miller each have fond memories of his performance and leadership. Sabres’ forward Tyler Ennis struggled to recall an instance where he had scored on Miller in practice.
“He’s an incredible goalie; hopefully I’ll have my best memory tomorrow if I can get one on him,” Ennis said.
Ryan was the guy that counted the number of pucks that ended up in the back of the net after each drill. He was a guy that maintained a good reputation with opponents around the league and led by example in the locker room. This was most evident in the upbringing of Jhonas Enroth. The two were always talking strategy at practices which led Enroth to adopt a lot of his habits. Some of them were entirely equipment related and others were based on recognizing the flow of play.
Miller was always the one that over-conformed to the sport, it was a good thing. He didn’t take nonsense from teammates, at one point he was titled the grim reaper of the locker room during the tank-phase. The 2013-14 season was evidently exhausting on Miller. He was constantly rested because of his dedicated effort and the large quality of save he would finish with. It was tough on fans to see their hero constantly hung out to dry by a futile defense.
The Buffalo community will flock into the Frist Niagara Center to support a goaltender that has done so much for the city. As soon as his plane touched down at Buffalo Niagara International Airport Ryan went to visit patients at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Helping others in their fight against cancer was always something Ryan cleared his schedule for.
“Ryan Miller may have just saved this hockey game,” seemed to be a quote that constantly fell out of Rob Ray’s mouth during Sabre broadcasts. He always used every piece of equipment to defend the net whether it was the butt of his stick, edge of his skate or helmet.
In my opinion he had some of the smallest leg pads in the National Hockey League before goaltenders were forced to trim them down by two inches in 2013. He posted incredible numbers in 2009-10 when he won the Vezina Trophy because of his .929 save percentage and 2.22 goals against average. This highlighted his name when it came to selecting the Olympic squad. He performed valiantly while representing the USA in the 2010 Olympics but fell short against an unbelievably talented team Canada roster. Sabres fans always took pride in talking hockey with others and always found a way to bring up their star studded goaltender in these conversations.
Who could ever forget the injury that Miller suffered in 2011 when Milan Lucic chased after a breakaway puck? It scooted just outside of his possession and Miller met it halfway into the zone and chipped it towards the boards. This didn’t slow down Lucic as he continued to keep the same pace and barreled over the unsuspecting goaltender. This sparked a fire under the Buffalo squad as every teammate whether it was Pominville or Guastad turned to spar with either Lucic or the behemoth, Chara. This should forever reside with Buffalo fans. It’s an important lesson, to always stick up for a teammate and battle against what is wrong.
It’s interesting to contemplate how things might have shaken out if the 35-year old Miller was commanding this growing Buffalo team. Then again, it would have been near impossible to land Jack Eichel if Ryan stayed through thick and thin. Entering Saturday afternoon’s game the Sabres find themselves in a situation where they must question their current goaltending situation. They have an established backup goaltender in Chad Johnson, there is Linus Ullmark who has strung together a few wins for the Sabres as of late. The decision on who gets the starting nod against the storied former Sabre will not be an easy one for Dan Bylsma.