As the general manager for the U.S. Olympic Men’s Hockey Team in 2010, Brian Burke had compiled a strong roster for the Vancouver Games. Included in that group were goaltenders Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick.
“We had an orientation camp to set up things for Vancouver,” Burke said. “I remember thinking, because we were bringing Jonathan Quick as a backup goalie, and I remember right away the coaches said, ‘Well, at least in Jonathan we have a capable backup.’ I remember thinking, ‘Shouldn’t there be some kind of competition here? There should be some discussion at least over who is going to start. And everyone’s like, 'Ryan Miller is the starter.’”
In Vancouver, Miller quickly showed why there wasn’t much discussion among his coaches. His .946 save percentage and 1.35 goals-against average set new American Olympic records, and he led the U.S. all the way to the gold medal game. While the team fell short of its goal and went home with silver, Miller was named MVP of the 2010 Olympics.
Now Miller, an East Lansing, Michigan, native, is part of a five-person class set to be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame on Wednesday, Nov. 30 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Miller will be joined in the Hall’s 50th class by Steve Cash, Jim Johannson, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando.
At 6-foot-2, Miller had the size and athleticism to be an imposing force between the pipes. But Burke said it was the intangibles that gave Miller an edge.
“What sets him apart is his mentality,” Burke said. “His determination in shootouts, the number of shutouts he recorded. That's just focus. I loved having him. He was a good kid, he’s a good teammate, he listened — he’s stubborn, but he listened. He’s just a great player.”
Miller certainly had the credentials to back that up throughout his career.
After a standout college career at his hometown Michigan State that saw him win the 2001 Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s best player, Miller went on to play 18 years in the NHL, most prominently with the Buffalo Sabres, before stops in St. Louis, Vancouver, and Anaheim.
Miller set numerous franchise goaltending records in his time with the Sabres, including the most games played (540), most career wins (284), most wins in a season (41) in in 2009-10), and most shutouts by an American-born goaltender (28).
The 2010 Vezina Trophy winner retired from the NHL in 2021 as the winningest American goalie with 391 victories, a 2.64 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. A two-time NHL All-Star, his 44 shutouts rank second among American-born goalies.
Along with the Hobey Baker, Vezina, and Olympic Games MVP honors, Miller also earned the AHL’s Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as the league’s top netminder – making him the only goalie to receive the honor at the NCAA, AHL, Olympics and NHL levels combined.
With the national team, Miller may be best remembered for what he did in Vancouver in 2010, when he served as the backbone of a U.S. team that posted a 5-1 record before being defeated by host Canada in the infamous gold-medal game.
On and off the ice, Miller asserted himself as a team leader from the beginning – a role that Burke said not a lot of netminders often take on.
“Ryan took a leadership role and was very opinionated about it,” Burke said. “About how to do things, who would do what. I personally really enjoyed having a guy that would speak his mind.”
Burke was clear to point out that Miller didn’t just go off about things. His play first put him in a position to be able to be a terrific leader, and because of that, his words carried more weight. Any opinion Miller did express was usually a quick response to whatever the situation was.
“You have to deliver; talk is so cheap,” Burke said. “Ryan would speak up and then he would stone people. He would record shutouts, win shootouts. He put his money where his mouth was.”
As forceful as he was on the ice and in the locker room, Burke said Miller kept the rest of his life private, except for one thing – his love for his Spartans.
“We did talk about Michigan State,” laughed Burke. “I heard more about the Michigan State Spartans and Munn Arena.”
From college through the pros, Miller certainly made his mark, and was proud of his accomplishments along the way. And although the goalie ended his career without hoisting Lord Stanley, Burke said that doesn’t take away from what Miller accomplished.
“The fact that Ryan Miller does not have a Stanley Cup ring doesn’t diminish his greatness in my view,” said Burke. “Some of that’s just luck. Mike Richter won his with the Rangers in Game 7 in ’94. If that game goes the other way, he never has a ring. Does that diminish his greatness? Ray Bourque. He had to try a second year in Colorado to get his ring. Does that diminish his greatness? And I say no, I think [Miller is] in that discussion [as the greatest U.S. goalie], regardless. Just look at the body of work.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.