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Miller gets the call for Team USA

by Dan Rosen
Four years ago, Ryan Miller was arguably the NHL's hottest goalie heading into the Olympic break, but still couldn't crack the top three for Team USA. So, Miller sat on his couch back home in Michigan and sourly watched the Americans finish eighth in Torino.

But before you start wondering, no, Miller didn't seethe or harbor any animosity toward USA Hockey. The American team, you see, was selected the day Miller came back from an injury, so even though Miller went on a 14-3-2 stretch leading into the Olympic break, as long as Robert Esche, John Grahame and Rick DiPietro stayed healthy, Miller wasn't going to Italy, even though he likely would have been the Americans' best option.

"There was a lot written about it and a lot of people asked me if I was mad at USA Hockey or felt like I was slighted in any way," Miller told, "but all of that kind of came to light after the fact."

This time around, there was never a question or debate surrounding Miller.

Miller was as much of a lock to make Team USA's roster as Martin Brodeur was to make Team Canada's entry. With a month and a half still to go before the first puck drops in Vancouver, the Sabres' goalie is also the Americans' best option if they want to medal.

Miller was selected Friday along with Boston's Tim Thomas and Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick as the three American goalies.

"We've been too impressed with Ryan Miller," said Team USA GM Brian Burke, whose Toronto Maple Leafs have scored only six goals in four games, all losses, against Miller and the Buffalo Sabres this season.

Like most players, Miller always has had a long-term goal of making it to the Olympics, only his stems from years of watching college hockey.

Until 1998, when NHL players started playing in the Olympics, the American teams were made up mostly of collegians and Miller always dreamt about one day being one of those college hockey players that wore USA over his chest protector.

Miller saw what it could be like nearly 22 years ago when his father took him and his brother, Detroit forward Drew Miller, to Calgary to watch their cousin, Kevin, in the Olympics. Kevin Miller, who played at Michigan State, was an American forward.

"It was a big goal of mine when it was for amateurs," Miller said. "With all the college players playing in the Olympics, it definitely registers and was something I wanted to do."

But as soon as Miller became old enough, the NHL swooped in and started sending professionals to the Olympics. Miller's dream stayed alive as he rose to become Michigan State's No. 1 goalie at the turn of the century, but it had to be put on hold for a while.

"But," he said just days ago, "as we sit here it's pretty cool."

Miller, though, hasn't played for USA Hockey since the 2003 World Championship, meaning it's been a while since he played in a short, condensed and ultra scrutinized tournament.

The makeup of the Stanley Cup Playoffs affords goalies a few stinkers, but not the Olympics. One bad game could cost a country a medal. It makes you wonder if goalies are under more pressure in the Olympics than they are in the cauldron that is the playoffs.

"Game to game it could mean something bigger, but if you really analyze it down to the seeds, it really is just another hockey game," Miller said. "You try to not make any game bigger than it is. It's like in playoff time, you just want to keep wining, to keep advancing, to keep playing as long as you can. Like any other game, there's a hockey puck and you have to keep it out of the net

Burke and Co. at USA Hockey are trusting that's exactly what Miller will do. All American hockey fans are doing the same thing.

He may be their best hope for a medal and maybe, just maybe he's good enough -- and has been playing well enough lately -- to steal this entire tournament.

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