By Pat Murray
Buffalo, N.Y. — The talk amongst Western New York hockey fans isn’t about the Buffalo Sabres players who are going to the Olympics, but about one of the Sabres who will be staying home.
Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, who ranks near the top of the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage, was passed over for the United States hockey team. Miller has better stats than those of the three goalies headed to the Olympics — John Grahame of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Rick DiPietro of the New York Islanders and Robert Esche of the Philadelphia Flyers.
“I don’t want it to affect my season,” Miller said of the Olympic snub. “I’m not going to be devastated. I have a job to do, I wasn’t basing my year on the Olympics. It would have been a bonus and a great experience, but I wasn’t going to let it affect the way I play.”
Miller was named to the U.S. taxi squad this week, meaning he could go to Turin if there’s an injury to one of the three goalies. But don’t expect Miller to pull a Tanya Harding by hiring someone to injure one of three netminders.
“That’s the last thing on my mind,” Miller said. “I just really hope they perform well. Locally, I understand why people would like to see me there, but at some point you have to get behind the American Olympic team.”
Ironically, it’s an injury that kept Miller off the Olympic team. The netminder missed six weeks earlier this season after breaking a thumb during a pregame morning skate.
“I was 6-4 when I got hurt,” he said. “It was a touch decision for the general manager (Don Waddell of the Atlanta Thrashers) and coach (Peter Laviolette of the Carolina Hurricanes).
“You have DiPietro who’s put in a lot of time with USA Hockey, he’s been in the league a year or two longer than me. You have Esche who’s played in the World Cup with DiPietro, he’s established himself as an NHL guy, you have Grahame, who won a championship with Laviolette in Providence, and who’s been great all year. With the information at hand, what’s a GM to do? You have one guy who’s coming off a six-week injury.”
Miller has publicly downplayed the snub, but has let his performance on the ice speak for itself. He’s gone undefeated this season when facing the other goalies on this year’s U.S. Olympic team.
“It’s human nature to want to prove you’re better than somebody else,” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. “Ryan wants to show them that they made a mistake.”
Sabre fans have also made their voice heard about how they feel about Miller’s situation. HSBC Arena has been filled with chants of “USA, USA,” whenever Miller makes an outstanding save.
“Just to hear the fans’ appreciation about anything is great. They just tied it into a situation that’s come up in my career, but any kind of appreciation feels great,” Miller said. “They understand we (the Sabres) are working hard for the city of Buffalo. They’re really getting excited.”
Miller knows he’ll have other chances to represent the United States in the future.
“If I establish myself here and keep playing hockey, the international stuff will follow,” he said. “It’s still been a great year, I’m not going to let one situation and a little bit of adversity on something that was out of my control affect the season.”
And while Miller may not have a chance at Olympic gold this year, he’d settle for the chance to win a big, shiny silver cup bearing Lord Stanley’s name later this season.
Contact Pat Murray at 282-2311, Ext. 2258.