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Canucks' Miller to face Sabres in Buffalo for first time

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- Vancouver Canucks goalie Ryan Miller will make his return to the city where his NHL career started in 2002.

The Canucks play the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday (1 p.m. ET; SN, MSG-B) the first time Miller will play here since he was traded by the Sabres to the St. Louis Blues in 2014.

"I've been away a lot longer than I thought I'd be, just last year getting interrupted by injury," Miller said Friday. "I thought I'd be back sooner, so it's a little delayed, but it's still a little bit emotional. But it is fun. It's fun to see how things have changed. Maybe staying away is little bit of a shock to the system, to come down here and see so much has changed. I'm really excited for the city in that regard. There's some really nice things happening. People seem to be responding really well to that. I'm hearing lots of good things. It's nice to come back here and know everything's going well."

Vancouver Canucks goalie Ryan Miller makes his return to the city where his NHL career started in 2002 when he faces the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday. (Photo: Getty Images)

Miller faced the Sabres once last season; he made 20 saves in a 5-2 win in Vancouver on Jan. 30, but an injury sustained Feb. 22 in a game against the New York Islanders prevented him from playing in Buffalo on Feb. 26. The added time has helped give him perspective on his career and what it means to come back to Buffalo.

"The only thing I kind of thought about was that it was odd it's been so long," Miller said. "I think (last time) standing here a year and a half ago (after the trade), so it's been a long time. Getting injured last year the game before coming back here was a little bit ironic. It's just been a while. Pulling up and seeing how things have changed, that was interesting to see. It was a great chapter of my life, and things have definitely kept moving forward for everybody.

"I'm just going to try and enjoy it and try to be in this moment right here. I'm not going to try and go back too far and drift off. This is a nice moment. I have a good life. I'm happily married and have a beautiful son. I play with a good organization and we're competitive. I feel good, so that's exactly where I want to be in my life. I'm not going to try and go too far drifting back, but I'm going to try and have fun with it."

Miller was traded by the Sabres to the Blues, along with Sabres captain Steve Ott, on Feb. 28, 2014. The trade ended Miller's time in the Sabres organization after he'd been a part of it for almost 15 years; he was picked by Buffalo in the fifth round (No. 138) of the 1999 NHL Draft.

"He's a pro and I remember him coming to the rink every day working hard, especially in practice," Sabres forward Tyler Ennis said. "He spent a lot of time on the ice. He was usually one of the last guys off the ice and he competed on every puck. He got upset if you put a puck in on a rebound if another guy was coming down on a shooting drill, so he didn't want any pucks in the net and he worked hard and that's why he's so good."

Miller made his NHL debut with the Sabres in a 4-3 overtime loss against the New Jersey Devils on Nov. 19, 2002. Over the course of the following nine and a half seasons in Buffalo, Miller helped the Sabres reach the Eastern Conference Final in 2006 and 2007 and helped them win the Presidents' Trophy in 2006-07.

Miller won the Vezina Trophy in 2009-10, the same season when he helped the United States to the silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He was a member of the 2014 Sochi Olympic team led by Sabres coach Dan Bylsma.

"I watched the one as a fan in the 2010 Olympics and he was probably the most valuable player for the United States team in that Olympics," Bylsma said. "Joe Pavelski's shot goes in off the crossbar, it's a different story for Ryan and Team USA. In 2014, Jonathan Quick played the majority of the games and I remember Ryan's professionalism and supporting his team."

There aren't many Sabres left on the roster who played with Miller during his formative years in Buffalo, but those who spent the most time with him recalled what made him so successful.

"Early on in my career he kind of took me under his wing," Sabres defenseman Mike Weber, Miller's teammate from 2007-14, said. "The way he sees the game is probably unlike a lot of players that play in this League. He has a real thinking mind; just the way he sees certain things break down, how things break down, and the way he could talk to you and help you out back there was pretty huge as a defenseman, to have him helping you out throughout the course of a game and in the locker room."

Miller's career has taken him from Buffalo to St. Louis and now to Vancouver, but if there's anything that's changed about him it's how he's mellowed out as a 35-year-old veteran. One thing that hasn't changed is that he's the same competitor he was as a rookie in Buffalo years ago.

"I enjoy just how good he is," Canucks coach Willie Desjardins said. "I enjoy that he does a great job not giving up rebounds. I enjoy that he wants to win every night. Like he's super competitive, he plays to win every night. So those are all great factors. I like the fact that how smart he is and how well he studies the game. He sees things that I don't see. It's like he's at a different level when he's on the ice. Knowing what shooter is coming in, what hand he is, everything away from the puck. He has great vision on the ice. But all those things I enjoy. I think he comes with a real professional attitude and I think he wants to give his club a chance to win, not just every night, but long-term."

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