For many years, Ryan Miller was essentially the centerpoint of the Buffalo Sabres organization. A beloved goaltender on the ice and beloved person off it, Miller meant a lot to the Sabres and Western New York communities during his playing time here.
Now, nearly nine years after Miller’s last game in a Sabres uniform, he got the chance to don the jersey once more - this time, the refreshed black & red loathed - as the team inducted him into its hall of fame and raised his number to the rafters of KeyBank Center, forever enshrined along the likes of the French Connection, Tim Horton and Dominik Hasek.
Miller’s legend in Buffalo is the stuff of, well, legend. There hasn’t been a goalie like him in the Sabres organization since he was traded in 2014, though some see glints of promise in the young Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen today. Miller was truly a special player in Buffalo, and his impact both on the ice and in the community is still being felt to this day.
The Sabres organization gave Miller the proper honors he deserves on Thursday night, a ceremony truly befitting of a player of his status and history. This was a game that I knew I couldn’t miss - not just the game itself, but the pregame ceremony that lasted 45 minutes and was every bit as regal and intimate as it needed to be. The crew that put together this ceremony to honor one of the best players in Sabres history did a truly phenomenal job making sure Miller got the respect he deserves.
For so many of us, it was a time to reflect on Miller’s legend. All the memories of his time in Buffalo came flooding back, and I’m sure more than one person in that crowd shed a tear - or two. It was a reminder of what he did while in Buffalo, including the ‘05-’06 team, the ‘06-’07 run, the energy around the team during that time - not unlike the hype surrounding today’s team.
It’s part of what made retiring his number now, during this season, just right.
Seeing roughly 20 Sabres alumni introduced ahead of Thursday’s ceremony produced a rush of memories. The population of Pominville rising. Thomas Vanek ripping a slapper. Patrick Lalime, always with a smile. Derek Roy’s antics. (Hard to believe he is a former teammate of JJ Peterka!) It was as if all the best memories of those years returned.
Having Brian Duff and Martin Biron as the hosts of the night just made sense. They’re great on the MSG broadcasts, and they were great as part of the ceremony. Duffer’s passionate, knowledgeable demeanor is perfectly balanced by Marty’s energetic, enthusiastic spirit. And of course, Biron’s connection to Miller as a former teammate and goaltender made it that much more special.
Seeing a banner get raised to the rafters will always be a special moment. But what made Thursday night even more special was hearing Miller speak about his time in Buffalo. His memories, his perspective, gave us a behind-the-scenes glimpse at those years. Listening to him talk about his time working with Carly’s Club and the Steadfast Foundation reminded us of just what kind of person he was - and is, with a heart of gold. And learning about the introduction of the Ryan Miller Fund - at the same time Miller himself learned of it - was particularly touching. His impact in the community continues to be felt today, and will continue to be felt for a long time.
When Rick Jeanneret took the mic, that was truly something special. A legend honoring a legend - how often does that get to happen? It sent chills down my spine to hear RJ utter, once more, “Miiillllerrrrrrr.” I suspect I wasn’t the only one.
Finally, hearing Miller’s brief words to today’s Sabres team - it felt like he was speaking to every single person in that arena. Reminiscing on his good times, but also recognizing the potential, as well as embracing the unique connection the Western New York community has to this team. It made me want to run through a brick wall - or at the very least, offer Miller a contract to formally become a part of this organization. Goaltending coach? Consultant? GM in training? He would be a great addition to the organization in any capacity.
As an aside, Thursday’s ceremony also presented us an opportunity to see Miller as something else: a husband and father, as his wife and two young children joined him on the ice. Seeing Miller holding his young daughter, not even a year old, provided a friendly reminder - needed sometimes - that these hockey players that we put on pedestals, that we adolate and criticize, are more than just hockey players. They’re people!
The game itself was its own animal, and you can read any number of the recaps about it. The fact that the Sabres won topped off the night nicely, the perfect cap to an evening intended to celebrate one of the most renowned players in recent franchise history. They needed to win that game, and Dylan Cozens’ OT goal just 12 seconds into the extra frame gave the 19,070 fans in attendance the cherry on top.
I might as well continue with the ice cream sundae analogy here, so seeing Miller come out on the ice after the win was the sprinkles on top of it all. He looked somehow like a seasoned veteran and like a young gun simultaneously, wise beyond his years but like he could just as easily strap on the pads and skates one more time and take his rightful place in net. Seeing him among the current players and knowing how much it must have meant to both of them, and how much it meant to everyone else watching from the crowd, was a reminder of what was, what is, and what could be.
One more time, in the friendly confines of KeyBank Center, it was.... Miller Time.
And we loved every second of it.