BUFFALO, N.Y. – An Olympic year is again bringing out the best in Ryan Miller.
With USA Hockey to announce its roster Wednesday for the Sochi Games, the 33-year-old Buffalo Sabres goaltender has made his case to be on the list.
“It’s very special to represent your country at that magnitude, where everyone’s focused watching it,” Miller said. “For me, it’s another chance to play in the tournament where there’s a chance to win something. You focus, take it seriously.”
It would be difficult for general manager David Poile to ignore Miller, who starred on the Americans’ silver-medal team at the Vancouver Games in 2010.
Miller has established himself as by far the best player on a Sabres team that has an NHL-worst 11-24-4 record entering its game at Winnipeg on Tuesday night.
Though Miller has a subpar 2.69 goals-against average and a 10-17-1 record, he leads the NHL with 948 saves and is tied for seventh with a 92.7 save percentage among goalies with 15 or more games.
His form recalls that of the 2009-10 season, Miller’s finest year domestically and internationally. That’s when he won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender and was honoured as the Olympic tournament MVP.
“Looking back on last time, it was great,” Miller said. “The city of Vancouver was great. My family, my wife, my friends who got to come, they had a great time. It was a great experience, seeing events, seeing the city.”
One part, however, wasn’t so great. Sidney Crosby scored in overtime to give Canada a 3-2 victory and the gold medal. It’s a goal Miller doesn’t like to discuss.
But it hasn’t stopped him from wanting another chance. And so far he’s outplayed his fellow American goalies this season, including Detroit’s Jimmy Howard and Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick.
Miller, of late, has stepped up his game. He has a 5-1-1 record and a 1.65 goals-against average in his past seven games. And he was named the NHL’s second star on Monday, a day after he stopped a career-best 49 shots—and six more including in the shootout—of a 2-1 win over Washington.
The effort was not lost on his teammates.
“Olympics or not, he’s going to play like that no matter what,” forward Drew Stafford said. “If I’m picking the team, he’s my guy.”
Miller’s solid play comes at a time when his career is approaching a crossroads. He is in the final year of his contract. The Sabres have expressed interest in signing him to long-term deal. Yet questions remain as to whether Miller has the patience to stick with a team rebuilding through youth.
“I think he is the Buffalo Sabres in my eyes,” defenceman Henrik Tallinder said. “No one knows what would have happened if he wasn’t here. To me, he is ‘Mr. Sabre.'”
It’s also not lost on Tallinder that Miller has raised his game in time for the Olympics.
“You can’t shut your eyes for that,” Tallinder said. “That’s the kind of guy he is. I think he always puts everything he’s got out there. I hope he’s going to make it.”
Miller’s immediate focus is on Buffalo. Yet he’s allowed himself to consider what could be in store in Sochi.
“We won silver and people treated us in a very special way,” Miller said. “Winning a gold, I don’t know how much different it might be. United States is always expected to win. I think people would appreciate it and be excited, and it would definitely be a highlight for me.”