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

a roll.

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

be.

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

recognized.”

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

expectations.

“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

important.”

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 —

continuous learning.”

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.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of

hockey,

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