Monday, November 26, 2007

Why I Love Hockey # 33 - The Goalie Edition

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts! Four more days, four more days...

Why I Love Hockey #33 - Ryan Miller
I'm ready to admit something I don't think I've ever discussed here before. There was a time when I didn't really care for Ryan Miller. Don't get me wrong, I was never one of those people who thought he should be backing-up Marty Biron and I didn't cry angry tears that we traded Marty when we did. But I liked Marty so much. I don't think I really have to explain that since everyone likes Marty but he was funny, and charming, and just came across as very, very warm. Ryan... didn't, not to me atleast. He always came across as a little more standoffish, much more serious, and most concerning, somewhat fragile. I know I've mentioned it before but after he lost in front of his family and friends in Detroit, he completely broke down crying in a post-game interview. On one hand, awwww, poor guy, that's kind of cute and sweet. But on the other hand, geez, do you really want your goalie crying after tough regular season losses? The NHL season is a long one and even great goalies lose too often for that to be healthy. Marty wasn't as talented as Ryan but his easy-going temperament worked in his favor. If he gave up a goal, no matter how soft, he was over in the second the puck dropped again. Ryan was a brooder. Every goal bothered him, every mistake, no matter how small, hung over him.

Once Marty left town and Ryan was on his own, I started to get a better feel for him and some of the negatives started to look more like positives. The standoffish-ness was focus, the seriousness was competitiveness, and the fragility was a touch of humanity. I started to feel like he'd be just as interesting to talk to as Marty, albeit in a totally different way.

Kate at The Willful Caboose talked about Ryan a couple of days ago and she commented on how he seems to be cultivating the proper goalie temperament and that's so true. He's been very open about using a sports psychologist and his post-game interviews often have the sound and feel of someone who's thinking out-loud. A couple of nights ago when Ryan talked about the no-call on Saku Koivu's blatant goalie interference he was partly complaining, getting it off his chest, but he also seemed to be thinking over the events of the game that led up to that, trying to figure out exactly what happened and if it made sense. (Ryan, it made no sense.) When most players are asked, "What were you thinking there?" you usually get something very generic. "I was thinking we needed a goal" or "I was thinking I just needed to keep going to the net." When Ryan is asked, "What were you thinking?" he always has a sincere, in-depth answer - what angle he was looking at, how the puck had been moving on the ice that night, what the shooter's tendencies are - and he's always willing to share them with whomever's around.

One of the best things about being a fan is getting to watch a player grow up and develop. That's partly what makes Thomas Vanek so exciting to watch right now. You can just feel that he's in the midst of becoming something. I think this is part of my growing affection for Ryan Miller. That overly emotional kid who used to beat himself up on a nightly basis is slowly blooming into a very good goalie and an important guy in the dressing room, not to mention a valuable part of the Buffalo community and one of the faces - if not the face of the Sabres franchise. Remembering his struggles back then makes watching his successes now that much more special. The fact that we can really see his process and how hard he's worked to get to where he is now makes him that much easier to cheer for. When that serious facade cracks long enough for a little smile to break through it's a beautiful thing. I hope Buffalo gets to watch him for many years to come.

My favorite picture of Ryan.

1 comment:

TheTick said...

Outstanding picture.

I've always had the feeling that Miller is just a quiet, deep, contemplative guy. Count me in with a Miller mancrush.