By Josh Brewster, Buffalo Sports Page
Ryan Miller is almost four years removed from his illustrious career with the Buffalo Sabres. At 37, he finds himself in Southern California, where his actress wife is best situated, carving a new niche as the NHL’s premier backup goaltender for the Anaheim Ducks.
Now 3-0-4, Miller remains undefeated in regulation backing up fellow American John Gibson, contributing on-ice and off, being an example of focus that his younger peer can emulate.
Traded to the Blues at the 2014 trade deadline, Miller backstopped St. Louis during the stretch run, supplanting Brian Elliott as starter. The Blues were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Chicago Blackhawks in six games while Miller surrendered 19 goals and was unspectacular, which led to the first harsh criticism of his career and his departure for Vancouver, where he signed a three-year, $18M deal.
Miller did a solid job on a struggling Canucks club from 2014-17, losing in the first round to the Flames in his first season in the Pacific Northwest, then failing to qualify for the playoffs during the past two seasons.
Vancouver was a bit closer to TV Land, but still far enough away to be an obstacle for his wife’s career. Fortunately for Miller, the Ducks came calling last summer and offered him a 2-year, $4M deal.
Thus far, Miller has seen his injury-depleted Ducks surrender leads late in games where he and starter Gibson have performed quite well, only to lose in shootouts and overtime. Miller recorded his club’s first shutout December 6 at home against Ottawa.
“(I’m) just trying to keep adjusting to the new guys, new team,” Miller told Buffalo Sports Page. “There’s always something to work on, to communicate with the guys. I feel happy with the contribution, get some points for the effort. This team needs to start stringing some wins together, so I’m trying to be a part of that as well, trying to be sharp when I’m needed.”
Losing to crosstown rival Los Angeles and conference rival Nashville after leading for much of the game tends to sting. Anaheim’s infirmary list, however, is substantial: Centers Ryan Getzlaf returned only this week and Ryan Kesler has yet to play. Patrick Eaves played just two games, and Jakob Silfverberg, Ondrej Kase, Nick Ritchie and Rickard Rakell have been out for stretches of time, depleting the winger corps. On defense, Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm have been gone for weeks at a time. Now, Corey Perry is week-to-week. This has led to the need to bring in Adam Henrique, and press role players such as Derek Grant and Chris Wagner into far greater responsibility than they’ve ever seen.
“Hockey’s funny like that,” Miller shrugs. “We were starting out with different personnel and guys playing more minutes than they’re used to. We’ve gotten used to it. We’ve been better lately. That will serve us well down the road.”
Miller’s club has shown a very strong work ethic, keeping pace in the Pacific with depth chipping in.
“There’s guys who aren’t used to playing up around 20 minutes a game. If they’re going to be in a role where they’re supporting down the stretch, they’re going to be ready for it. I think that even though we have given up a few lately, if we keep improving we’ll hold those leads and some of those guys who were in different roles will be better for it. I think we’ve shown some resiliency, we have had a lot of guys injured and when the lineup shifts, that’s an adjustment for every player.”
According to Sudarshan Maharaj, the club’s goaltending coach, the ascendance of starter Gibson to the elite of NHL netminders has progressed in part due to the example Miller sets.
“Goalies take on habits of their partners,” says Maharaj. “In terms of Ryan’s preparation, approach, attitude and focus, all of those things are high end and so he’s nothing but a positive influence on Gibby.”
Miller’s success is due to his clockwork attitude toward discipline, Maharaj offers.
“(Miller’s) very in tune with his body, his equipment, his technique. We’ll discuss what he’d like to focus on. Does extra work after practice. He’s scripted, for lack of a better word, for what he needs. This guy one of the most in-tune athletes in terms of what he needs to be a success.”
HAPPY WIFE, HAPPY LIFE
Miller’s wife, actress Noureen DeWulf, perhaps best known from her work on the TV comedy Anger Management, reaps a benefit by Miller’s move to Orange County and its close proximity to Hollywood. But what of the famous LA traffic?
“We’ve been renting down here in OC because of traffic. It’s one of the few places in the world aside from New York City where you can be within like 30 miles from the game rink and it’s too far. My wife has gotten caught a few times on the wrong side of the (traffic) and it’s like, ‘see ya tomorrow.’”
Her acting career remains on track, says Miller.
“It’s going well. She’s continued to work and take meetings. It’s been better for her, but still not ideal. We’re still really busy, we have a toddler,” Miller says of 2-year-old son Bodhi, born during his time with the Canucks. “(There’s) still a lot going on but I think that it’s much improved from having to be weeks and months far away from LA because meetings come in at the last second.”
Miller remembers Buffalo fondly though he sold his home in WNY.
“I love Buffalo. I have friendships and stuff like that but it was never going to be a family location. I have my family here and I have my family in Michigan. It would have been a lot of spreading myself thin (to have kept the house). I still love to go back and I still talk to people there.”
As every Buffalo hockey fan knows, Miller won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top netminder in 2009-10 (Don Edwards and Bob Sauve shared the Vezina (1979-80), Tom Barrasso won it in 1983-84, then Dominik Hasek won it six times in eight seasons from 1993-94 to 2000-01).
Whether the Hockey Hall of Fame will ever come knocking for Miller is debatable. What’s not is that he deserves a rightful place in the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame alongside Millers named Aaron, Cindy, Edith, Todd and Van.