February 26, 2010
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Ryan Miller(notes) believes a goaltender's style is a window into his personality, which is why flamboyance has never exactly been a virtue in the Buffalo Sabres goalie's game.
"My dad always told me [when I was younger] that Sports Illustrated wasn't here taking pictures. Just make the glove save and move on," he said.
Miller is blue collar. He's workmanlike. He's all the other words one uses to describe a player whose style of play wins more games than makes highlight reels.
Miller is also reserved. He's introspective. He's the last guy who'd ask for the attention that comes with being the best goalie in the Olympic tournament thus far; yet he talks to the media and fans every day on every issue, ranging from pucks hitting him in the chest ("I'm really weak through the 'S'," he joked) to his romantic life.
"Yeah, despite my best attempt to not have that happen," he said.
But Miller gets it. He understands that, in many ways, the Olympic experience isn't contained to Vancouver; that he and his team are bringing hockey to the casual fan back home.
"It's the duty of the Olympics. People from different walks of life paying attention to hockey. I've been trying to roll with it because it's good for the game," he said. "People are interested, and they're interested in me. Why not open up a little bit? You might gain some hockey fans. You might gain another young person who enjoys hockey, and therefore we grow our sport."
Miller continued: "It's the responsibility we all kind of have, because we are a cult sport in North America. In Canada, it's life; in the U.S., you get toward the south and central states and it's nonexistent. It's not even an afterthought. These are the moments when you have the country's attention."
The U.S. team earned that attention with an undefeated run. Miller has proven to be the most valuable goalie to his team in the tournament.
"I just have to give my guys a chance to win," he said. "I'm trying to watch the puck carrier, and looking for his options. I'm trying to decide if my defense has set themselves up in a good way to cut off a certain amount of plays. Sense danger."
If Miller can sense danger, then he can surely sense how unpredictable the tournament is. Miller watched the Canadian dismantling of Russia and was impressed with how Canada goaded their opponents into making mistakes.
"I knew Canada was going to be emotional. I think the Russian guys got in trouble trying to run into the zone and make some moves. They didn't get the puck deep early. If they had weathered the first five or seven minutes by getting the puck deep, playing more conservative, it would have been a different game. I'm not saying it would have been a different result," he said.
"I thought the Russians kind of played into exactly what Canada wants you to do. They want you to feel cocky. They want you to go over the line and make moves."
Miller isn't cocky. He isn't overconfident. He may not even realize how perceptions about his game and status in the NHL goalie pecking order have been changed by his MVP efforts in Vancouver.
He's laser-focused on the task at hand, which is bringing a medal back to Buffalo: "Here we sit. It's why we play the tournament," he said. "I just have to give my guys a chance to win."