When you ask someone about their memories surrounding former Buffalo Sabres netminder Ryan Miller, every person will likely give you a different answer - but some of the same themes stick throughout. An All-Star goaltender; show-stopping saves; an off-ice personality that struck a chord with many; a charitable heart with a significant impact on the Western New York community.
Miller, now set to retire from his NHL career at the end of the 2020-21 season, is highly touted in the hearts and minds of many, from teammates to fans to sportswriters and everyone in between. Here at Die By the Blade, several of our staff members got together to share their thoughts and memories on one of the best goaltenders in Sabres franchise history. Here’s what we have to say:
From Joe Yerdon:
My favorite memory of Ryan Miller comes from 2013-2014, settling into my first season working in Buffalo, in what would be Miller’s final season as a Sabre.
It was November and a fair number of players were taking part in Movember for fun and charity. As the month went along, the mustaches grew out, and in some cases, did so very poorly. Not Miller though, as he rocked a bushy pushbroom on his top lip with a soul patch accoutrement.
Not having spoken a ton to Miller one-on-one and also not having much face time in the room, I didn’t exactly have a rapport with him, but I knew he was a heady guy and a music fan. It was time to strike up a casual conversation after practice.
(All paraphrased, of course)
“Hey Ryan… the stache, I have to ask: Are you going for a Frank Zappa look here?”
Miller smiled, laughed, and thought for a pause.
“Wow, huh… Zappa, yeah that’s actually a good one. I would totally do a Zappa stache.”
Miller explained his lip coif inspiration and managed to turn the tables on me when it came to references.
“No, it’s not Zappa. I was going for more of a d’Artagnan look.”
I was shook. My mouth left agape and I staggered to reply only with, “Wait… what?”
“You know, Three Musketeers…”
Oh no, I knew exactly who d’Artagnan was I was just not prepared to hear that from a NHL star as to who his mustache muse was. It’s a moment that makes me laugh from how presumptuous I was that I could perhaps impress Miller with my mostly basic yet seemingly thoughtful music knowledge only to have him one-up me with classic literature.
Touché, Ryan, you always do.
From Anthony Sciandra:
I know that THE goalie from my era (and every era, really) of Sabres fandom is Dominik Hasek. That being said, I was only nine years old when he left the organization, so most of my long-lasting Sabres memories occurred with Ryan Miller in the crease. Two magical Eastern Conference Final runs, a Vezina Trophy, and even a heroic performance in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
He always had a sort of magic about him. A calming presence on a newly high-event post-lockout Sabres team. That signature stoic gaze upward from behind his mask carried this dramatic ambiance with it. Like he was locking himself into his final form. A lot of folks feel that the Sabres’ high caliber offense from 2005-07 was the primary reason they were “never really out of a game” but I think Miller deserves just as much credit for that perception.
To this day, I still get chills watching his highlight reel saves in blue-and-gold. I’m sure that’s the case for most fans. When we fondly recant moments from that era of Sabres hockey, you think of names like Daniel Briere, Chris Drury and Maxim Afinogenov, but there was only one face of the franchise during that time.
For that reason, Miller will always be a legend in Western New York.
From Ryan Wolfe:
My Ryan Miller memory might come off as a strange one because it isn’t an amazing highlight. I remember being in the press box the day Ryan Miller was traded. Many thought before the game that Miller would be traded soon but no one could have expected that would be the night.
After the trade broke in the first period, the collected media gathered in the press room while Ryan Miller spoke. When he finished up his emotional press conference, Miller took the time to shake the hand of every person in the room.
That, to me, explains the type of person Ryan Miller is - one of the greatest players in Buffalo Sabres history. A very smart athlete and an all-around wonderful person.
From Melissa Burgess:
Miller is remembered by so many for what he did on the ice - and I can’t fault anyone for that. He made some absolutely stupendous saves, kept the Sabres in games when they shouldn’t have been, stole wins and okay, once in a while, let in a goal right at the end of the game in the most infuriatingly stupid way. He checks so many boxes: NHL All-Star. Olympian. Vezina winner. Breaking records & putting his name in contention with Hasek as one of the best goaltenders in the team’s history. He accomplished so much on the ice, but I’ll always think of what he did away from the rink, too.
Miller is one of the few professional men’s hockey players who genuinely seems like one of the most caring & charismatic people off the ice. Among the things that come to mind: his work with the Steadfast Foundation, the Catwalk for Charity and visits to Roswell Park. He & his wife, actress Noreen DeWulf, have spoken out about social issues like immigration. Miller himself also spoke to one of my colleagues & friends, Jashvina Shah, about topics like racism and sexism for her upcoming book - not exactly topics many pro athletes would necessarily jump to discuss.
And of course, let’s not forget his personality, from that AMP Energy Drink commercial to his comments about Milan Lucic, his love of photography and guitars, and that other commercial featuring guys like Brendan Shanahan, Phil Kessel and Roberto Luongo. Just a fun, passionate guy with a good heart, who also happens to be really talented at hockey - that’s how I remember Miller.
My favorite Ryan Miller memory came after a heartbreaking overtime loss. It was the 2009-10 NHL season and the Sabres were playing the Bruins in the playoffs. Buffalo had split the first two games of the series at home and then lost the third game in Boston, setting up a crucial Game 4 late April. The Sabres took the lead early in the first period, and then added a second in the second period to go into the third period with a two-goal lead and set to tie the series with it heading back to WNY.
The crowd at the TD Bank was rabid. During breaks in play, the arena had been piping in audio from ‘homer’ commentators Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley. Hemmed in on all sides by a fervent crowd, my girlfriend and I sat smugly enjoying our two-goal lead. The back of my Ryan Miller slug jersey taunting the B’s fans behind me had evidently gotten too much by the end of the second period because I’d already had half a soda (with ice!) and popcorn dumped over it, but I didn’t care.
The third period did not go well for the visitors. The Bruins pulled two back and then it seemed the ice was slanting Ryan Miller’s way as we headed to overtime. Still, the Sabres battled gamely and took the game to a second overtime with the clock approaching midnight now. The last train home for me had already left from the MBTA station under the arena, so I texted a friend who I worked with and had said he would be at the game. He texted back to meet him on the 1st floor concourse by the North Station doors, and I was all set, and settled in ready to go as many overtimes as it would take for Miller to steal us a win.
It was not to be however, with former Sabre Miro Satan potting a goal in the second OT to end the game and give the Bruins a 3-1 series lead that they would not relinquish. Dejected, we took the escalator down surrounded by jubilant Bruins fans who spared no insult as we left. However, there was a twist in the evening for us still. It turned out that my Czech-born contractor friend actually did work at the arena and was a personal friend of Vladimir Sobotka, and got us into the mixed zone the players came out to from the locker rooms.
It was mostly media personnel there on the side the Sabres bus was parked at, with less than a handful of Buffalo fans there. As the Sabres trickled out from the locker room in ones and twos, they stopped to give the media folks a soundbite here and there, and ambled to the coach. A couple were responsive enough to come over to the fans and sign autographs - Drew Stafford was dejected but managed a weak smile for a picture. Jason Pominville and Craig Rivet also signed autographs. Finally Miller emerged and was surrounded by the media. When he extracted himself from that crowd, he made it a point to come to the fans and signed every jersey, flag and picture that was put in front of him, and took the time to ask each of the fans their names and how they came to be Sabres fans while he posed for pictures.
For him to go out of his way to do that late at night after a frustrating loss was pretty incredible, considering he was quickly reaching superstar status as well. And pretty much every story I’ve read about him before and after that seemed to corroborate that he is indeed a kind and personable human being who is always looking to meet and learn from others. Ryan Miller is indeed a gem of a person and it is my fervent hope that he can rejoin the Sabres organization in whatever capacity he so chooses because he would make the franchise immediately better for his presence.
From Austin Brass:
Memories of Ryan Miller... There are two that stick out right around the 2010 Winter Olympics. I was in the arena the last home game before he went over to the Olympics. I think it was the San Jose Sharks but I could be wrong. I remember the entire last minute the crowd was chanting “USA! USA!” even though we were holding onto a tight lead and they had pulled the goalie. Normally I’m panicked in those situations but I remember just knowing we were winning that game because Ryan Miller wasn’t going to allow anything in with all that energy behind him.
The second was the Gold Medal game. We were driving back from my sister’s college in Ohio and pulled over to a small-town bar to watch the game. We had to argue with the bartender to change the channel to the game on this small TV in the corner of the bar. It was a townie bar, packed, with most of the patrons watching either NASCAR or something other than that. My family was nuuuuts the entire game. Yelling and screaming. Slowly the bar started to watch the hockey game, eventually being put on the large TV screen in the middle of the bar. I’ll never forget a save Miller made in the third and an entire bar of non-hockey fans (20-30 people) in Ohio started chanting for Miller and USA. The end result...stunk. But it was a riot of a time and a small bar in a small town in Ohio was chanting his name for 3 hours. It was awesome.
From Chris Downey:
Miller’s been my favorite player since I can remember. I’ve enjoyed his career throughout and then opportunities to speak with him and see him play. From Rochester to Team USA and the NHL clubs post-Buffalo, I’m sad to see his career ending but know he’s the best tendy in USA Hockey history and one of the best ever in the league.
It’s Your Turn!
What are your favorite memories and anecdotes of Ryan Miller’s NHL career, specifically his time in Buffalo with the Sabres? Share your thoughts in the comments!