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Sabres' Miller bides his time in AHL

Posted: Thursday March 06, 2003 7:52 PM
 

By Amy K. Nelson, Special to SI.com

BOSTON (Ticker) -- It's as if his path was chosen for him the moment he entered the world -- Ryan Miller was born not a baby, but a hockey player.

Maybe not, but Miller, 22, is a decendent of a family rich with hockey history.

In 1999, he became the ninth member of his clan to play hockey at Michigan State. His cousin, Kip Miller, was the 1990 Hobey Baker winner and now center for the Washington Capitals.

"Anyone who's close to use knows we're more than that," said Ryan. "Although we made some strong commitments to the sport, I think we're a lot more well-rounded than people even expect."

While true, it would be foolish to ignore the impact it had on the young netminder.

Clearly the ice is in his genes. By his sophomore year, the East Lansing native had taken over the collegiate hockey world.

Miller, who owns the NCAA record for career shutouts with 26, broke Central Collegiate Hockey Association records in goals-against average (1.24), save percentage (.950) and shutouts in conference play (9) in 2000-01.

For his efforts that season, Miller joined Minnesota Golden Gopher Robb Stauber (1988) as the only two goaltenders to win the prestigious Hobey Baker.

A self-described mutt of a goalie, perhaps Miller's superior skill is his mental makeup. The kid just doesn't like to let pucks into his net and he'll work harder than anyone to make sure it happens as little as possible.

Terry Barbeau will be the first to attest to Miller's intense work ethic. Barbeau met Miller when he was 15 years old and the two have forged a friendship over the years, with Barbeau acting as his personal coach each summer.

"His commitment to success," said Terry Barbeau, when asked about what makes Miller stand out. "He hates to fail."

Miller, who was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the fifth round of the 1999 draft, opted out of his senior year to turn pro last fall. The 6-foot-2, 160-pound lanky goalie had a difficult start as a pro.

He began his season with the Rochester Americans in the American Hockey League, the Sabres' affiliate, with a personal nine-game winless streak (0-7-2). Not ideal for a top-notch prospect.

Miller had just two wins under his belt before Buffalo called the rookie up for his first NHL game. Miller traveled to New Jersey where he allowed four goals in an overtime loss.

"I was a little surprised that I did get the opportunity this year," said Miller. "Everybody who plays at this level knows that when you get a shot to do something or you get a chance to go to the next level, it's not always going to be the way you envisioned it.

"It's always going to come at a time when you least expect it."

Miller remained with the club for 15 more games, going 6-8-1 with a 2.63 goal-against average, including his first NHL shutout at Minnesota on Jan. 14, before he was sent packing in late February. With so many young talented goaltenders in the dishevled franchise, Miller still stood out.

"His mental preparation is so advanced for a first-year player," said Americans coach Randy Cunneyworth. "He's very driven. I think that's the reason why he's successful -- that's also the reason why he was recruited so heavily.

"It says a lot about his personality and gives you an indication of what's to come."

His hard work goes beyond the rink. Miller, a business major at MSU, is determined to get his degree. While most of his remaining credits have to be taken at the University this summer, Miller has enrolled in an online class. During his callup, he would do all of his homework and take quizzes from his laptop on the plane.

In a single night, he's stopping pucks against the most talented hockey players in the world, and hours later, studying for a test. For those who know him, it isn't surprising.

"I think that says a lot about him," said Cunneyworth. "He's very driven in not only a physical way, but mentally, too."

Miller is learning how to live on his own, juggling school and a professional career. He rents a fellow player's condo in Rochester and says he's almost perfected his chicken parmesan while mastering the PlayStation game Vice City.

For Miller, a guitar playing enthusiast, life is more than just hockey. But don't let that fool you; he's all business when it comes to strapping on the pads.

"I had it in my head that I'm not going to have any personality flaws while I'm playing the sport and show that I'm a professional by all standards," he said. "Including how I handle myself when I take criticism and how I handle myself when I get sent down.

"I really want to come right back and prove that I'm not going to sulk and complain. I'm going to help the Rochester Americans win, just like I was contributing to the Sabres."


 
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