'Miller time' runs out

By TOM DINKI
On March 2, 2014

The inevitable happened last Friday: The Buffalo Sabres traded goaltender Ryan Miller.

Buffalo sent Miller, along with teammate Steve Ott, to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for goaltender Jaroslav Halak, forward Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier, a first-round pick in 2015 and a conditional third-round pick in 2016.

This trade has been brewing for nearly a year, ever since it became clear the Sabres would be rebuilding and their 33-year-old goaltender would probably not be interested in re-signing with a team that's going to be a bottom-feeder for several years.

Miller leaves town as the team's all-time leader in wins (284) and saves (14,847). He has carried the Sabres through years of mediocrity and helped make them respectable.

But many will question what Miller's legacy is in Buffalo sports history. I'm not sure what his legacy will be years from now, but I do know what it is to me. As a kid playing street hockey in my neighborhood, no one ever wanted to have to play goalie.

Miller made it cool to be the goalie.

While everyone else wanted to score goals and be the dangler and sniper, I wanted to be the one who stopped them. Most kids had fun hanging around the crease and scoring a goal; I got the same satisfaction seeing the frustration on those kids' faces when I made a save.

I even tried to play and look like Miller. I would always wear my No. 30 Sabres jersey during games. I kept my hair long so it would stick out of the back of my helmet just like Miller's did. I bought a goalie helmet that looked similar to Miller's.

I would even hunch over and stare at the ground and keep my arms in close in between plays because that's what Miller did. Every time I made a big save, Sabres' play-by-play announcer Rick Jeanerette yelled "Miller stops him cold!" in my head. 

I wasn't the best the hockey player. I couldn't skate or shoot well. But I was good at goaltending. If I didn't play goalie, I would have struggled trying to be a skater and I probably wouldn't have wanted to play street hockey with my friends. I never would have given goaltending a shot if it weren't for Miller.

Miller was my first and only sports hero. No matter how the offense played in front of him, the Sabres had a chance because of him. The isolation of Miller's position and his importance in the outcome of the game attracted me.

It's going to be strange not seeing No. 30 in the goal crease for the Sabres, but I'm happy about the move. It gives Miller a chance to win a Stanley Cup - although I wish he could have had that here.

Miller's number might hang in the rafters of First Niagara Center one day. He may be remembered as the best Sabre ever. Or he may be remembered as the great goaltender that could never get Buffalo over the hump.

To me, he's the person who gave me a chance to enjoy playing hockey. 

 

email: tom.dinki@ubspectrum.com


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