Miller shows mental maturation
Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller is leading the league in
almost every prominent statistical category and is a shoo-in right
now to start in net for the young and exciting U.S. squad at the
upcoming Olympics in Vancouver. That is to say, dude’s on a bit of
And while expectations are ramping up with every save made by
the 29-year-old, it’s not something that is going to make Miller
crack. After all, this netminder has been dealing with pressure for
years and has made it his mission to be as mentally tough as can
This season, all that preparation has been on display. No one
has more shutouts than Miller’s four, while his 1.88 goals-against
average and .937 save percentage are also tops in the NHL. Sabres
GM Darcy Regier knew the East Lansing, Mich., native had something
special in store for Buffalo this year.
“He was very focused,” Regier said. “It was something we saw
right from the start of training camp. It was something we all
And while Miller’s famously slight frame has never slowed him
down, he has grown in other aspects of life, specifically the
mental side of the game.
“He’s really taken ownership of his career,” Regier noted.
“The self control, the mental discipline, his reading of the game
— he knows what the puckhandlers’ options are.”
And Miller’s mental state will be tested many times this
season. Not only are the Sabres better than expected — and
having missed the playoffs the past two years, this is a good time
to get back in there — but Miller has usurped Boston’s Tim
Thomas as the expected No. 1 goaltender for the U.S. Olympic team.
All that means a lot of cameras and microphones in Miller’s
face, especially in big hockey markets such as Montreal, where the
netminder was exposed to The Horde.
“There were all these questions about the Vezina and the Hart
Trophies,” Miller said. “I’ve played what, 27 games this year? I’m
hoping to play 45 more, so it’s a little early for all that.”
Starting with his career at Michigan State, where he posted
26 career shutouts and sub-2.00 goals-against averages all three
years at East Lansing, Miller has been dealing with other people’s
“It got to the point after wins where people would tell me,
‘hey good game, but no shutout, what happened?’ ” Miller recalled.
“It’s like, what?”
Even State’s other players were hopping on the Miller train.
Assistant coach Tom Newton recalls getting on his forwards one
night for their performance.
“One of the guys turned to me,” Newton noted, “and said, ‘hey
coach, don’t worry: Ryan’s in the zone tonight.’ He was there for
us day in, day out, game in and game out.”
In the meantime, Miller was crafting his game, working toward
excellence. When the lights went out at State’s rink during a
summer training session, Miller did movement drills while others
waited around. He learned all he could under legendary Spartans
coach Ron Mason, whose last season corresponded with Miller’s.
“He was a very knowledgeable coach who played a great
system,” Miller said. “It was defensively responsible, which helped
me a lot. I thought we had a great team…every weekend was
Regier, who drafted Miller just before his Michigan State
days began, has seen precisely where his star goaltender has come
from and knows this isn’t the end of it.
“There’s been a tremendous amount of maturation on his part,”
Regier said. “Physical, mental, I think that’s his hallmark —
And as the rest of the NHL is learning this season, Miller
will not be easy to beat this season – on any stage.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News
magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a
regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appears Monday and
Wednesday, his column — The Straight Edge — every
Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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