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5:10 PM ET, 5/18/06
The Miller-Laviolette Feud
Posted by Michael Farber
With the natural cross-pollination in any sport -- trades and past histories and old feuds -- all playoff series are bound to have a back story, a juicy subplot to the actual games. The best, and most immediate, in the 2006 playoffs is Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller vs. Carolina Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette.
You might remember them better in their roles as miffed goalie and beleaguered coach of Team USA at the Olympics three months ago.
Now Laviolette has nothing against Miller. Indeed, he has been most complimentary of a goalie who has shown a laudatory level of poise in the playoffs. And for his part, Miller has made nice, noting that Laviolette did not pick the Olympic team.
But Team USA general manager Don Waddell, who did receive some input from Laviolette, did spurn Miller for the Turin team and wound up with nothing -- except a quarterfinal loss to Finland -- to show for it.
There weren't many close calls on fashioning a roster for a team seemingly caught between generations, but Miller's place on the squad shouldn't have been close at all. He had sustained a broken thumb after a white-hot start to the NHL season, but by the time the Olympic tournament began in mid-February, that busted digit would have been invisible in the rearview mirror of the hockey season. The leap of faith in assuming Miller would return to something close to his October form was no more than a jump over a small puddle.
But USA Hockey, fearing even the tiniest splash, chose to play it safe. And silly. Given three Olympic goaltender slots, Waddell & Co. handed them to Rick DiPietro, Robert Esche and the streaky but ultimately unreliable John Grahame (See Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella's 25 percent rule.)
DiPietro was an easy choice, a bouncy, overly confident goalie, someone with the brio that might have enabled him to rise to the Olympic moment. Esche was a respectable No. 3. But Miller, a Hobey Baker winner at Michigan State, should have been in the mix, arm wrestling DiPietro for the No. 1 job.
DiPietro didn't play horribly in Turin, generally just well enough to lose. Miller belatedly was invited to the taxi squad, which he joined. Sort of. Rather than flying to Italy and chilling there for a fortnight, Miller told USA Hockey that in case of cataclysm, you have my number.
Not that any of this will matter Saturday in Game 1, unless Laviolette starts shooting wristers from the bench. Miller hardly needs any more motivation, nothing extracurricular to make him "play harder." That don't-give-'em-bulletin-board-material line at this time of year is sophomoric hooey. Still, while hockey cools its heels -- there will be only one game between last Sunday and Friday as the NHL's playoff momentum goes pfffffft -- it gives you something to gnaw on.
I think this is a story as much as you in the media make it out to be. The events described are accurate, but I don't think Ryan Miller is focused on anything other than stopping pucks and giving his team a chance. I don't follow Carolina but I would assume this is the last thing on Peter Laviolette's mind right about now. Miller has already proven himself, but the past Olympics don't matter right now.
The problem I have with this line of hindsight (and you're not the first to posit it) is that when the team was picked, Miller was injured and Biron was on an unbelievable hot streak. Lindy Ruff made the somewhat strange decision (which like most of his this season worked out) to put Miller right back in despite Biron's play. I think, given all the situations we've seen where goalies take over the No. 1 job due to an injury, you can't blame Hockey USA for not being sure if he'd even be a starter on his own team by the time of February. It was a gamble, yes, but I think it's way too easy now to pick on it. As well, other than one game that I recall, DiPietro (who had played for Laviolette, shades of Quinn picking Cujo for Game 1 in '02) was usually the best or near-best performer on the US team. I think the difference to the team of Miller over DiPietro would have been negligible.
yeah, it's too late to cry about now. and not even miller or richter at his best could've saved the USA. but if buffalo wins the cup, miller will win the conn smythe. and this mistake will be more glaring than ever.
As a Sabres/Miller fan, I think he should have been selected. But I recognize the uncertainty with the injury and the fact that he was a rookie. I think the whole situation was blown out of proportion and Miller himself is long over it. Still I can't help but smile when Miller makes a great save (like in the Philly series when Esche was also playing) and everyone starts chanting "USA USA" because he should have been on the team. On another note, I think the USA Olympic team just didn't have any chemistry, they were too "thrown together" and didn't play well together. I don't think it was necessarily the goalies fault, nothing much else was going on offensively
The end of the third paragraph seems to sum up the relevance of this editorial.
"...Laviolette did not pick the Olympic team."
Saying that Don Waddell "did receive some input from Laviolette" and leaving it at that is terribly vague on this subject and suggests nothing about Laviolette's direct impact on this decision. Without a direct quote or indication that Laviolette absolutely didn't want Miller on the team, the suggested scenario dissolves into mere speculation and faux drama, and certainly can't be worthy of Sports Illustrated's top story-line on the NHL webpage for May 18, 2006.
I'm sure the writer knows more than I do about this, but please buttress such lengthy speculation with more than this.
I seem to remember you saying Miller wouldn't be able to take the Sabres too deep into the playoffs after game 1 in the Ottawa series. As a senior writer, you should know better that one game does not mean anything. Eat crow, Mr. Hockey genius.
Stop trying to create a controversy where there is none. As you mentioned, Miller has made it readily apparent that he holds nothing against Laviolette for the Olympics debacle; after all, it was Waddell that picked the team. Also, if you read between the lines of many of Laviolette's statements about the situation, he agrees that Miller probably should have been on the team.
I also have to disagree with your statement that Ryan got off to a "white-hot" start. Miller is a notoriously slow starter; go back and look at his career in the minors. This season was no different; he was 6-4 with a 3.05 GAA when he went out with the thumb injury. What Sabres fans were upset about is that when he came back from that injury, he won 13 of his next 16 starts. Unfortunately, I think the proverbial hay was already in Team USA's barn as to who the goaltenders were going to be.
What should have convinced Waddell was the fact that Miller, during the lockout, led Rochester to a franchise record total in points and became the first goaltender to win 40+ games in the AHL since the great Gerry Cheevers. Is anyone else excited for Allan Muir's inevitable column next season, playing up a rivalry between Tim Thomas and Laviolette for "snubbing" Thomas in favor of the other three goalies.
Wait a second everyone, before we fry our goaltending in the Olympics, lets remember one thing. DiPietro played very well. In fact the problem with Team USA in the Olympics if you remember from watching the games was the overall lack of scoring. Modano had 2 goals, Tkachuk 0, Weight only 3 assists, We averaged 2.6 goals a game; 16 for the whole tournament (6 games). 7 of them were against Latvia and Kazakhstan, and another 4 in a loss to Russia. 11 of the 16 goals scored in those 3 games, teams that don't have the highest level defense or goaltending. Against Sweden, Finland and the Slovaks, we scored a total of 5 goals. There's your problem.
A 'Canes - Ducks series for the Cup? I hope not. You'll have Mounties closing the border refusing to allow Lord Stanley's gift to cross; and with good reason: those arn't hockey cites, they can't even sell out playoff games. Anaheim and Raleigh are Martini cities, hockey's beer. Stop and ask someone on the streets of Anaheim or Raleigh what icing is and they'll tell you it's the topping on the birthday cake. Hooking? Something done by women in short skirts at seedy bars. No. Hockey fans on both sides of the border have to pray for an Oilers - Sabres series just for the dignity of the sport.
With all due respect to the author, this article is crap. Miller was asked about the so-called Fued regarding the Team USA and he brushed it off to the media saying "I know what you are all trying to do here. There is no bad blood, we have talked about this once now let it die."
If you are going to post something make sure it is accurate.
You don't need to have perfect hindsight to see that it was a totally idiotic move to leave Miller off the team. It was dumb for multiple reasons.
First, since everyone agrees that Miller is the future of USA Hockey, he should have been given at least the #3 slot to give him experience in Olympic hockey.
Secondly, NOT ONE OF THE OTHER GOALIES WAS HAVING A GOOD YEAR!!! Miller is the only one of the four who had a good year. So much for earning your way onto the team.
Lastly, Esche had been fighting a groin injury all year. He will be going under the knife soon, if he hasn't already. So, why did Miller's thumb (no one is claiming that it wasn't healed by the time the team was picked) hold him off the team, while Esche's groin didn't hold him back?
USA Hockey got it's just desserts in Milan. They picked a lousy team, and got what was coming to them. They also should have picked Langenbrunner and Connolly.
I love some of the people on here who type like they know more than the writer. They even use big language like they're some kind of english scholar... and if you are one, what exactly do you do with a BA in English? Apparently you sit at home and use big words to criticize SI's writing staff... but what do they know? they've only been a leader in sports for decades. Its just hockey drama to all you kiddies out there who think this is some kind of half-a$$ story. Its part of building hype, which is what you do when you're a writer.. if nothing was hyped or over analyzed it would be a pretty boring world don't ya think? What I'm trying to say is leave your opinion, but don't be a moron and knock the writers unless they make a glaringly obvious mistake. Nothing is a mistake here, it's just playoff hype.
I think people are right in that Miller wouldn't have made a major difference in the outcome. I think USA would have been in better shape, but still would not have come away with some "bling." One more thing, yes Biron was on a hot streak, but really it was because his team rallied. I give him credit in that its an impressive streak, but we've seen Marty for 10 years in Buffalo, he's a good, not great, goalie. I remember when Trevor Kidd played for the 'Canes and posted one of the longest shutout streaks in history.. impressive yes, remarkable even, but it didn't make him great by any means. Marty's in a similar boat but he's better than Kidd. I think he could help a team like Vancouver out a lot, but he does not compare to Miller. Ruff's decision was not strange at all, he went with the great goaltender who had a massive upside instead of his loyal but clasicaly inconsistent 'tender. Saying Ruff was questionable is the same as saying the Sabres didn't know what they were doing letting go Miro Satan and Alex Zhitnik: most people thought those moves would doom us, instead they solidified us and here we are... Ruff was questionable? No, he was doing what he knows how to do, which is win. And don't give me anythig about how we haven't won in years, that's what happens when you're bankrupt and screwed by a greedy owner like John Rigas.
Wonderful example of sports journalism here. How long did it take you write this? Without having to turn over many stones I'm sure one could find dozens of insightful, entertaining and perhaps even compelling stories within this Eastern Conference Final. You ever think about working for the NYPost?
Stop trying to make up stories to garner interest in the playoffs. Does Miller feel he deserved to make the team? Sure. Is he going to go out and try and prove he should have made the team this playoff round? I really doubt it. He's concentrating on winning the Stanley Cup.
To be honest with you, I'd rather win the Stanley Cup than a gold medal. I wouldn't be surprised if Miller felt the same way.
Nice try to get people to read your garbage writing. I've seen writers reach for stories, but this really takes the cake. No one cares about this story. Team USA was joke, Miller was hurt, and Peter didn't even pick the team.
Watch a little hockey and find something truly insightful to write about. You are a joke.
A general note on the Sabres... nobody in the media wants them to win because it’s bad for business. There are no underlining stories of huge payroll, lack of chemistry, nothing. The media is forced to grab at straws to create a story, to create a villain and a hero so that the public will latch on and read the column. IE, the Sabres never win..the opposite team losses. Or the Sabres "sneak by," or Miller doesn't make the key saves, the claim is always that the D makes the blocks (semi-true, but Miller does look amazing at times).
Now I've been a Sabre fan since I was a kid, which is weird since I was born in the Bronx, (so much so that I was one of the 8 nut cases that went to Philly for game 3... in a Sabres jersey …not one of my most brightest moves.. looking back on it I’m actually happy we didn't pull that one off or I would have been killed...those fans are horrible and I hope Wachovia gets rocked by a freak earthquake during a sold out Flyers game).
I'd love to see them pull this out, and win the cup. I can't wait to see how writers like Mr. Faber explain how THE ENTIRE LEAGUE LOSS THE CUP; leaving the Sabres to win it by default.
"A 'Canes - Ducks series for the Cup? I hope not. You'll have Mounties closing the border refusing to allow Lord Stanley's gift to cross; and with good reason: those arn't hockey cites, they can't even sell out playoff games."
AMEN!! I'm glad I'm not the only one who cringes and gets a chill up my spine at that thought.
Hmm---I wonder… if the Sabres had gone out in the 1st or 2nd round would anyone even remember this happened? Probably not, at least not for another four years. Hopefully by then the choice is as clear to USA Hockey as it was for most of us, Miller all the way!!!
Enough already of the our brand of hockey is better than yours garbage. Teams like Carolina and Anaheim don't get this far on a fluke and in the case of Carolina they have been playing out of their minds all season long. We will concede the great hockey traditions of the north their well deserved honors ... but the best thing for the sport is well played close series .... which we seem to be getting even without all the traditional powerhouses in the mix.