LAS VEGAS --
When he was a kid, Buffalo Sabres
goalie Ryan Miller
said he loved buying "decks" of hockey trading cards.
"It was so cool to see the cards with the award winners," Miller said.
On Wednesday night, Miller might have been imaging what his trading card will look like this coming season: He won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's outstanding goaltender, walking to the stage at the NHL Awards Show after standing in a threesome with fellow finalists Martin Brodeur
and Ilya Bryzgalov
"I look up to Marty quite a bit," Miller said of the four-time Vezina winner from New Jersey. "And Bryzgalov and I came into the American League at the same time, so it's been really fun watching him progress. He played with my brother Drew for a while, so I knew what kind of stand-up, character guy he was."
Backstage, Miller talked about the heroes whose names are engraved on the Vezina, including Brodeur and former Buffalo goalie Dominik Hasek
. He also noticed Jacques Plante
, the legendary Montreal goalie who is credited with inventing the mask, stopping for a moment to catch up with his emotions.
While every hockey fan in North America recognized Miller's rise to superstar status while leading Team USA to overtime of the gold-medal game at the Winter Olympics in February, his NHL numbers were stellar, too: 41 wins, 2.22 goals-against average and basically saving 93 of every 100 shots all season. Hard to believe, but it was Miller's first Vezina nomination.
Maybe it was an offseason workout routine he started two summers ago because, as he put it, "I'm a skinny guy." More likely, it had something to do with Miller's post-Olympic run of going 9-2-1 in his first 12 games after Vancouver.
Plus, there is something to be said for maturing as a goalie to have his name etched on the Vezina.
"It's been a steady progression with learning and evolving as a player, and putting the work into the mental side and the physical side and the time with the team," Miller said. "I think it's definitely something that reflects very well on my teammates and the ability to adapt and grow a defensive game that's kind of been coming for the last two years.
"I think one of the things we did really well was we cleaned up the defensive zone and the communication, and knowing what I like to see on the ice, and what [backup goalie] Patrick Lalime
likes to see on the ice, and that makes a great defensive environment for us."
All quite rewarding for a fifth-round pick from East Lansing, Mich. Even so, there's room for growth, Miller said.
"I have worked hard to be an elite player in this League," Miller said in a quiet moment on Tuesday. "But what I'd like is to share a bigger trophy with my teammates."