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Miller reflects, looks ahead after 375th win, most by U.S.-born goalie

Ducks veteran passes Vanbiesbrouck on all-time NHL list

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

Ryan Miller prefers to stay in the present.

The Anaheim Ducks goalie expects there to be plenty of time for reflection after his playing career is over. At 38 years old and in his 16th NHL season, he's closer to that point, but he's not there, yet.

Still, surpassing John Vanbiesbrouck for the most NHL wins by a U.S.-born goalie, earning his 375th in a 5-2 victory against the Washington Capitals at Honda Center on Sunday, has taken Miller on a trip down memory lane he wasn't expecting.

Video: WSH@ANA: Miller becomes winningest U.S.-born goalie

"It's a little bit confusing still," said Miller, who is 375-270-80 with one tie in 748 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres, St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks and Ducks. "It's something you kind of look back on when you step out of the moment. I'm trying to do my best to kind of remain in the moment and not look back too much. But the universe is kind of weird."

Miller tied the record with a 6-5 victory in a relief appearance at the Capitals on Dec. 2 before injuring his knee against the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 9. He missed 23 games with a sprained MCL before being activated from injured reserve Wednesday and resuming his quest to pass Vanbiesbrouck. 

"I love when people break records," said Vanbiesbrouck, who, like Miller, is a Michigan native. "I love that because it shows perseverance in the sport. Over the course of your career, you look back and if you've played a while you're grateful for it, but you're also grateful that you're in the same conversation with them. Ryan is an all-time great."

Miller's father, Dean, reminded him that he first met Vanbiesbrouck in 1986. Miller was 5 at the time and his cousin, Kelly, was teammates and roommates with Vanbiesbrouck on the New York Rangers.

The Millers stayed with them when they went to New York to see the Rangers play the Edmonton Oilers on March 28, 1986. Vanbiesbrouck, who won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goalie that season, made 34 saves in a 4-2 victory. The next day, Miller and his father went to Providence to see Michigan State, his father's and now his alma mater, defeat Harvard 6-5 to win its first NCAA championship since 1966.

"So, it was a really good hockey weekend with my dad," Miller said. "It's kind of funny how things line up as 5-year-old. Now, I've played long enough where John and I as American-born (goalies) we find ourselves (linked) in the record book."

Miller, who went on to win the Hobey Baker Award as the top NCAA player at Michigan State in 2001, said he and Vanbiesbrouck met several times after that. 

Vanbiesbrouck, who was 374-346 with 119 ties over 20 NHL season with the Rangers, Florida Panthers, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils, views Miller as a fitting successor in the lineage of top American goalies that also includes Tom Barrasso (369 wins) and Mike Richter (301 wins).  

Like Vanbiesbrouck, Miller also won the Vezina Trophy, with Buffalo in 2009-10, when he went 41-18-8 with a 2.22 goals-against average, .929 save percentage and five shutouts. The Sabres' fifth-round pick (No. 138) in the 1999 NHL Draft, he reached 40 wins twice and 30 wins seven times in his 11 seasons with them before being traded to the Blues in 2014.

Miller went 284-186-56 with one tie with the Sabres, 10-8-1 with the Blues and 64-68-16 in three seasons with the Canucks before he signed with the Ducks in 2017.

Over the past two seasons with Anaheim, he's 17-8-7, including 5-2-1 this season. 

Video: WSH@ANA: Miller denies Ovechkin's breakaway bid

"He's more of a throwback because he still stands up a bit and plays a bit more of a hybrid," said Vanbiesbrouck, now assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey. "But I think from style and performance and everything, for Ryan I don't think there was a time or an era in hockey he couldn't play in." 

One of 10 family members who played hockey at Michigan State, beginning with his grandfather, Elwood, Miller grew up admiring Spartans goalies such as Mike Gilmore (1988-1992), Mike Buzak (1991-95) and Chad Alban (1994-98). His NHL favorites included Curtis Joseph, who played with Miller's cousin Kevin, on the Blues, and Martin Brodeur, but he said he didn't model his playing style after anyone specific.

"My style just kind of evolved to what I was comfortable doing," Miller said. "I don't think I was really emulating too many of those guys. I think it was a mixture of many, many, many different goalies I was able to watch. It was probably the entire League from the late '80s and mid '90s."

A member of the 2010 and 2014 U.S. Olympic teams who also represented his country at the 2001, 2002 and 2003 IIHF World Championships, Miller has always appreciated his opportunities with USA Hockey, calling them, "a really big part of my career." Becoming the leader among U.S.-born goalies in wins has provided some perspective on his place among them.

"My generation looked up to guys like Barrasso, Richter and Vanbiesbrouck," he said. "Hopefully, the next generation feels the same way about our group, that we're taking a step forward. I fully expect that American goaltenders are going to be the majority at some point in time. The game is really taking off and we have an interesting blend of athletes and it will be fun to see."

Miller doesn't expect to hold the record for long. He can see Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, a 33-year-old native of Milford, Connecticut with 304 NHL wins, approaching in his rearview mirror. 

Video: WSH@ANA: Miller denies Backstrom's dangerous chance

And as the Ducks backup, he has an up-close look every day at another potential challenger in teammate John Gibson, a 25-year-old Pittsburgh native who already has 110 wins but was placed on injured reserve Wednesday with injuries to his head, neck and back.

"There will be a lot of guys running it down," Miller said. "But for sure [Gibson's] established himself at a much younger age than I was able to do. … He's got a lot of hockey to play and he'll be interesting to watch."

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