ARLINGTON, Va. – Ryan Miller was simply brilliant at the 2010 Winter Olympics. He put the U.S. in a position to win silver and came within a goal of gold.
The Buffalo Sabres goaltender was named tournament MVP after making 139 saves on 147 shots over six games. Not a bad, little run.
His Olympic journey, however, may have ended there.
Even though he’s just 33 years old, potentially in the prime of his career, there’s a chance he might not be at the Sochi Games. Miller has struggled to have success since the last Olympics for the Sabres, whose rebuilding efforts may include trading him with one year left on his contract.
USA Hockey coaches and officials invited 48 players to this week’s camp because of their body of work or potential as a future Olympian, but management has made it clear how each player performs for their NHL club from October through December will be pivotal when the 25-man roster is revealed on New Year’s Day.
“Ryan is well aware of that,” general manager David Poile said Tuesday at the Washington Capitals’ training facility, as Team USA wrapped up a camp.
Miller is one of six goalies in the mix and he’s in a pack of perhaps four players vying for two spots behind Los Angeles Kings and Stanley Cup-winning star Jonathan Quick.
“It’s wide open,” Miller acknowledged.
That may be bad news for him.
Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings, Craig Anderson of the Ottawa Senators and Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils might get the other two spots as Quick’s backups. John Gibson, a 20-year-old prospect, was also invited to this week’s camp, but isn’t expected to make the team.
Miller made it clear what his goal is over the final months of 2013.
“I want to make the team,” he said. “I want to be the guy who is there stopping pucks in Sochi. I want to start.”
Miller started in each of the six games at the Vancouver Games and the only game he didn’t finish was a 6-1 rout against Finland in the semifinals. His run included a spectacular, 42-save performance in a 5-3 win over Canada in the preliminary round.
“It was the best two weeks I’ve seen a goalie play in my lifetime,” said Quick, who was the third goalie behind Miller and Tim Thomas in 2010.
Quick, though, has perhaps been the best goalie on the planet the past two years.
He lifted Los Angeles to a Stanley Cup championship in 2012—allowing an average of 1.41 goals a game during the playoffs—and helped the Kings reach the 2013 Western Conference finals while giving up an average of fewer than two goals a game. During each of the last two postseasons, Quick had three shutouts.
Quick’s time, for the Americans, seems to be now.
“What makes Quickie unique is his attitude,” Kings and U.S. teammate Dustin Brown said. “He’ll make a save he has no business making and then he’ll flip the puck out to the dot like it was just another save. His quiet arrogance trickles down and rubs off on guys.”
Miller is also relatively quiet, and has been mostly mum about the trade rumours swirling around him this off-season, but insisted he doesn’t resent the fact that he appears to be on the trading block.
“That’s the nature of sports,” Miller said. “It’s a transitional time in Buffalo. … I think it’s still a feeling-out process about where I fit into that. I got one more year left and my intention is to be the best I can be.
“I feel like I still have a lot of hockey left and feel like I can still play at a high level.”
The one puck Miller couldn’t stop in 2010 that haunted him for a while was Sidney Crosby’s wrist shot 7:40 into overtime that gave Canada the gold.
“It’s not a sore subject for me, anymore, but it’s definitely bittersweet,” Miller said. “It was a lot of fun to play hockey at such a high level in a great place, where they respect hockey, but at the same time it wasn’t the fairy-tale ending. You just have to trudge on and hope for your next opportunity.”
It will be up to Poile and his advisory group, which includes some other NHL general managers, to decide if Miller will get that chance in Russia. While every spot on the team is important, none will be more than who is in net.
“We got to make the right decision,” Poile said. “Because if we screw up on one up guy, that could be the difference between us winning and not winning.”
Follow Larry Lage on Twitter: http://twitter.com/larrylage