Ryan Miller has this sort of ‘screw you’ mentality. He has confidence. He has bravado, and he has flair – and a sick flow.
This is totally different than Miller’s predecessor, Roberto Luongo, who seemed to chafe at the constant drama that surrounded him.
Unlike when Luongo tended the crease, the numbers aren’t there yet for Vancouver goaltender Ryan Miller.
A 2.69 goals against average and .900 save percentage are quite poor, actually.
But when it comes to tending net in Canada’s ‘Lower Mainland’ you need more than just a high save percentage and a low goals against average. You need to be able to shake off constant scrutiny, and the ability to forget what just happened on the last score and move forward. And you also need to focus on the one number that matters … wins.
Currently Miller is 16-7-0, despite losing his last three starts.
We recently caught up with Miller and chatted about life in Vancouver, stopping his brother on a breakaway, and finding peace in training in Los Angeles over the summer.
Q. Your numbers probably aren’t what you would expect out of yourself, but does that really bother you?
MILLER: I think the numbers do indicate a consistency.
My numbers aren’t where I want them to be at the moment. There have been some changes to my environment. There have been some changes to the way I want to play the game and by the end of the season, I want to do it at a consistent level to the point where I think the numbers will align themselves. But right now I want to play well enough to help the team win. Winning is the ultimate thing. Basically it’s just get to the playoffs and get hot.
There are no gray areas in goaltending. You make the save, or you don’t. You seem like someone who can shake off goals pretty well. Does this ability help being in more of a fishbowl like Vancouver?
I hope that is something that’s going to help in the long run. You’re not going to play a long time in the NHL unless you’re able to forget the good and the bad. The good is not going to really be stacked up behind you like bricks on the goal line to help you make saves. But if you can feel the confidence that you know you can do something or make a certain kind of save going into a certain situation where you have that feeling. Ultimately it’s not going to be there to make it happen every time. And the same with the bad stuff. You’re not going to make the wrong read or a bad decision or get a bad break every time. You have to prepare yourself good or bad every time, and you have to try to bring the same kind of energy every time. That becomes a challenge.
We’re going through a stretch right now where it has been a little more difficult. We had a good start and a long road trip. Then we started to get a little bit of fatigue in our game, some habits crept in and we’re working our way out of it. But one thing that’s going to get out of it is, you have to trust the system. You have to trust the procedure, you have to be able to get back to the basic mentality where you don’t stray from the structure that makes you a good player and makes you a competitive team. You have to believe that’s what’s going to get you through.
You train in Los Angeles during the summer. You have a pretty good group currently. What was it like when you started and what’s it like now? Seems like people have caught onto your secret.
I think we kind of had a lull when we first got there. The Kings hadn’t won a Stanley Cup yet, so they had a few summer camps going on. But there was a lull where guys were in and out of town. Then when I got to know who was around and I got the idea I could be available and some of the other guys were available, we started to make a point to get on the ice a little earlier in the summer from time to time.
We connected with some of the local guys who were up and coming … guys in college and juniors and entering their early pro years like Beau Bennett, Emerson Etem, (recently retired) George Parros and Eric Nystrom. It’s a lot of fun to be around those guys, and I think we have a good core group of guys who lean on each other to make sure we’re pushing. From time-to-time, most summers we have a small group of guys we want to come in, just some of the local boys. They’ll stay for a week or two and skate – sometimes longer. The boys know we’re there if they want to come to LA during the summer. We’re there, we have ice-time, and it feels like there are a few more guys filtering out that way.
I moved out there to be near my wife about five years ago. It coincided with when the Michigan State skates in my hometown lightened up a little bit. My brother skates mainly in Detroit now. East Lansing slowed down a little bit. It used to be all the boys I went to college with. We had a nice training situation, but as they moved on it dried up a little bit more.
You played Detroit this year and you stopped your brother (Drew) on a breakaway. Your mom was at the game. Did you see the video of her reaction?
I saw the replay. That’s very much my mom in a nutshell right there. She’s a lot of fun – a great woman. Really emotional and really connected to her family. She makes a one-of-a-kind coat or something homemade. Every time we play each other, she’s had something she has made to reflect that she’s a ‘mom divided’ for the day and is somehow rooting for both teams to do well.
It has been a lot of fun to have the opportunity to play against my brother and have my family be at a lot of those games, so yeah … and to have Drew work himself into a breakaway. I think he felt he ran out of room. I think he felt if he had more time he would have made a little more of a move. I think since he ran out of space, I was able to close off one of his options and it happened to be the one he was picking.
So you’re not going to say ‘I had him all the way’ then?
No, he’s a good player. I think he’s underrated in his ability to create offense. He’s a very responsible person by nature. He knows his role. He’s a very loyal kind of person. He knows what’s expected of himself. He’s not going to get caught cheating on the ice. He takes himself out of the offense sometimes to the benefit of his linemates, so I think when you see moments like that, and he’s had a few of them over the years where he has been able to showcase his hands, knocking stuff out of the air, putting (the puck) down, making a play, the ability to play with different linemates over the years … he’s an underrated player when it comes to seeing the ice on the offensive side. He knows his role and knows what’s asked of him. He plays great defense and he’s responsible.
What is it like playing in a real, true Canadian market – understanding that there are a lot of Canadian Buffalo Sabres fans?
Everything is kind of geared towards hockey being the major sport. There’s a little more attention paid to it, where with Buffalo I think … it’s not really relief, but you share with the Bills a little bit. Here it’s, most commercials as you get towards the winter have hockey in them.
There’s a lot of emphasis on hockey being the premier sport, whereas in the States we have the football season and people get into the hockey season a little bit later. Here it’s on everywhere and people – it’s not just this market. They know what’s going on around the league, very similar to the way football is constantly on the background on television. As you go through your day in the States, you see sports highlights in different restaurants or passing by bars and restaurants, anywhere with a TV, you get some football highlights. Here you have all the hockey highlights.
It’s nice that the sport has so much attention and it has been interesting to kind of feel what football must feel.
You’re talking about football a lot. Do you miss the NFL?
I wasn’t a huge football fan. I have a respect for the sport, but I’m not a real die-hard kinda guy. Culturally there are some similarities between hockey and football … between the two countries.
There is a 2010 Canadian gold medal banner hanging in the rafters at Rogers Arena. Does that tick you off since losing that Olympic gold medal game (in the same building) to Canada was very emotional for you?
It reflects a time where I thought I prepared myself mentally to compete in the tournament at a high level and I was able to accomplish that. We were one shot away on either side … we got back in the game and we had our opportunities and they scored. It was frustrating not to get the win, but my mental preparation for that season started well before the season.
I was proud of the fact I was able to develop a plan, execute the plan and play at a high level with a certain level of focus and was able to prove something to myself, knowing I could execute on a plan and build myself up to a point where when I have an opportunity like that, where I can do that again.
Did you find you had more of a national following for yourself in the United States after the game?
It was something where you want to be respected as a player and as a group overall. It was definitely a transitional period where different guys could make a step up and make a claim that USA Hockey was moving forward. I think we did that, and I think we represented ourselves well in this last Olympics too. We had a tight game against Canada and it was an emotional loss. And I think that was kind of reflected in the bronze medal game.
But I think the last two Olympics have been a nice step forward for the United States and I was happy to be a part of a positive moment with USA Hockey for sure.