The 34-year-old Vancouver Canucks goaltender has always been headstrong, according to his father Dean, and Ryan may not be stopping pucks today if not for his unrelenting attitude.
Michigan State hockey was all that mattered to Miller growing up. His grandfather and great uncle skated for the Spartans in the late 1950s and early 1960s before his dad and three uncles (once removed) wore the green and white in the late ‘70s and throughout the '80s.
Cousins Taylor and Curtis Gemmel were the seventh and eighth family members to play at Michigan State before Ryan and brother Drew followed in their footsteps.
Ryan grew up fixated on Michigan State’s masked men; Norm Foster, Bob Essensa, Mike Gilmore and Chad Albin were his heroes, Curtis Joseph his NHL idol.
“I was kind of obsessed with them,” laughed Miller. “It’s just something that had always interested me, I was drawn to the position.”
Like all youngsters, Miller rotated positions when he began playing hockey and was especially jovial when it was his turn to strap the pads on. He pleaded with coaches to let him play goalie full-time, to no avail.
When Miller was eight-years-old he was a skilled forward dangling defencemen and embarrassing goalies with ease. On numerous occasions Ryan had asked, requested, begged and pleaded to be the goalie and his coach just wasn’t having it.
But enough was enough – it was time to take a stand.
“I kept telling him he had to learn the game and learn how to skate before he could play goalie,” said Dean, his dad and coach at the time.
“Then one day, he decided he’d had enough and he let me know.”
Did he ever.
“I wanted to show how serious I was,” smirked Ryan. “We were early in a game and I told him I wasn’t going to go back on the ice until I got to try goalie. He was a little baffled and tried to call my bluff, he said if I went out and got two more assists, I could try goalie.”
Ryan already had one assist when his sitdown strike began and wouldn’t you know it, he finished the game with three helpers and a new position.
“He’s told me a few times that I came off the ice looking at him like ‘ya, what’s up.’”
A life-altering moment, that’s what’s up.
Miller was goaltender for the next game and he played forward only once more that season – that was the last time he hit the ice for a game without a blocker and trapper.
“I love goaltending because it’s more about problem solving, it works well with my mental makeup,” he explained. “I was always interested in not getting scored on, even as a forward I was always backchecking and I wanted to keep the puck out.
“Every goalie has a different approach, but it’s about keeping the puck out, that’s how we contribute. For me, it’s always been a cool challenge, you get to think about the game and that fell in line with the kind of person I am. My personality matches the way I play hockey.”
So, no regrets?
“No, I don’t think I would have been a 177-pound forward in the NHL…but my brother somehow made it work. He’s a little bit bigger and a little bit meaner, on the ice at least, he’s a sweetheart otherwise.”
Speaking of Drew, a 30-year-old forward with Detroit, the Red Wings were just in Vancouver and for the ninth time in their careers, the Miller brothers went head-to-head.
Ryan was 1-7-0 lifetime against Drew going into Saturday’s game, a 4-1 Canucks win later and he’s up to two wins against baby bro. The win was the highlight for Ryan, but stopping Drew on a point-blank chance early in the game was the cherry on top of a memorable brotherly battle.
“Not a whole lot of people have gotten a chance to do this,” said Ryan, who made 29 saves for his 20th win of the year. “When you think about how long pro hockey’s been played, especially at the NHL level, not a lot of people get to say they get to do something like this.”
Prior to Saturday’s game, Ryan couldn’t recall the last time he beat Drew in the NHL. Wins are the ultimate, yet Ryan has always held another stat over his brother’s head: Drew has never scored a goal on Ryan.
“My dad says he always hopes Drew scores, but I get the win,” laughed Ryan. “I’d prefer the win and keeping him off the scoresheet. He’ll get me one of these days.”