Niagara Gazette

May 9, 2007

TIM SCHMITT: Miller's not a captain, but a leader

COMMENTARY

By Tim Schmitt

The captaincy in Buffalo, as has been well documented, is a furry two-headed monster.

Chris Drury is the silent wunderkind, leading by example. Daniel Briere is the battery that keeps the young legs churning.

But Briere brought up an interesting point during Wednesday’s NHL media conference call, one that’s not lost on the guys in the Buffalo locker room.

“Ryan Miller could be a captain,” Briere said.

In fact, he couldn’t. It’s not allowed by National Hockey League rules due to the logistics of dealing with referees and linesmen; the last goalie to captain his team was Montreal’s Bill Durnan in 1947-48.

But while Miller shares personality quirks with fellow goaltenders, he has an uncanny ability to lead from the back of the pack. Miller’s focus, much like that of Drury’s, is always on the collective. When he gives the media a few good minutes after games — and every media member knows that window closes quickly and absolutely each night — he always keeps the team at the forefront of the conversation, whether it’s that he felt he let the guys down a little or that he was happy to make some stops to keep the guys in it.

Make no mistake, Miller is as aloof and brooding as a rock star, but he’s the Sabres’ rock star, and they know as the set list starts to wind down, he’ll do his best to keep hitting the high notes.

On the few occasions when poor play required a leader’s stern words, Miller was the one who stepped up and demanded a better effort. And he’s been more than willing to speak as critically of himself, a trait not always found in today’s athlete.

“(I feel) like I have a good rapport with everybody and, further, if I’m going to say something, which isn’t too often, I hope it carries some meaning,” Miller said. “I have to be cognizant and aware of what’s going on and I just want to carry myself as a professional this year and when there’s been situations, you know, I tried to handle them as best I could.”

Miller has been very good in the playoffs, but improvements are still in order as the Sabres start tangling with the big boys. Teams are starting to fire high at his glove with more frequency. And Ottawa’s firepower and accuracy is far superior to that of the Rangers and Islanders.

Expect any flaws to be exploited often and early by the likes of Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson, who’s finally proving he also can be a leader.

If Miller outplays Ray Emery, the Sabres’ chances improve exponentially. If not, he’ll have to critique himself in the most difficult spotlight. Even if the latter happens, expect Miller to step up and speak the truth, even if it’s in a few short sentences.

He knows nothing but Lord Stanley’s Cup will make this a successful season.

“There’s plenty of motivation at the end of this road. It’s going to take a month of hockey to do it,” he said. “We’ve got two weeks of hockey committed to the Senators. That’s all we have to do.”

Contact group sports editor Tim Schmitt at 282-2311, ext. 2266.