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Miller talks frustrating season, state of the Sabres

by Brian Hedger
DETROIT -- The term "interesting" probably best describes the day that Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller had in his homecoming to Joe Louis Arena on Monday.

Frustrating and forgettable might work, as well.

After spending a great day on Sunday catching up with family and friends -- including younger brother Drew Miller, a Detroit Red Wings forward -- Miller started his day on Monday with a pre-game skate at Joe Louis Arena followed by a chat with the media for nearly 20 minutes.

He covered a lot of topics, too. Miller gave his thoughts on everything from dealing with a concussion that kept him out for about three weeks and what kind of things he's doing to guard against further concussions to why he thinks the Sabres are struggling to his feelings about Drew's increased role with Detroit to his own struggles in net.

Ryan Miller
Goalie - BUF
RECORD: 11-13-2
GAA: 3.12 | SVP: 0.898
The Red Wings then pounded Buffalo 5-0, scoring all five goals against Miller and chasing him from the net early in the second period in front of family, friends and Drew -- whose primary assist on the final goal led to his brother's early exit.

"It's embarrassing," Miller told reporters afterward, appearing to get a lump in his throat. "I got family, friends ... Everybody came to watch Drew and I play and, you know, at least they got to watch Drew perform."

It was an interesting day, to say the least. Here's a sampling of the lead up to Monday night's game, in Ryan Miller's own words:

Q: So, how was dinner yesterday?

Miller: It was good. I got to go to Drew's place. My mom, my youngest brother and my sister came up (from East Lansing) and just hung out for a little bit. A couple of my buddies actually live about two blocks away from Drew now, so I got to see them and their kids. It was a good chance to catch up with everybody and relax. It was nice to have a day like that here.

Q: There's so much attention on concussions now. Are you taking any kind of precautions this season?

Miller: I've been trying to evolve the way I think about things, and my helmet especially. I'm just trying to take some cues off the more modern helmets guys are wearing. The different equipment reps offered me some solutions ... harder foams, different densities and trying to take away things like flat areas on that mask, screws, anything that can get caught up.

I had a titanium mask. I wear steel now, so it's heavier, but it's not as hard and gives a little bit more -- things to take away some of the shock of a puck impact. Everything else is contact for us and you just try not to pay attention to that, things within the helmet. But our helmets aren't made for quite the same contact, which is a little worrisome.

Q: How daunting is the challenge this week, based on the schedule and home success of the teams you have to face (Detroit, Chicago, Winnipeg and St. Louis)?


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Miller: It's good motivation for us. We have to play well on the road. We know the areas we have to clean up and it's just a matter of execution ... from night to night it's been a little bit different for us. We've had one night where we're paying attention to things and then another where we're not. It's based on what teams are throwing at us. We, as players, have to adapt. We can't just always rely on coaches to finally say something about, 'Oh, they changed their neutral zone,' or 'They're coming up with five guys back and no stretch guy,' so it's a matter of recognizing situations and being able to execute. It's kind of like in football. They change the formation, you've got to be able to drop back and change it yourself. Same thing for offense for us. We've got to adapt to what we see. We've been a little bit slow on that this year as players, and it's up to us to recognize it.

Q: Are the recent games against Toronto and the New York Islanders maybe a perfect example of what you're talking about -- skating well against the Leafs and winning, and then the next game not skating as well, turning the puck over and losing?

Miller: Yeah, but those are symptoms of something else. It's not because guys weren't skating. It's that they were not put into position to be skating. We have to keep our speed within our system, and that means supporting each other and helping each other, so that we can skate in the right areas. If we're chasing up and down the ice all night, we're not going to be fresh, we're not going to be doing what we need to do. We're going to be turning the puck over.

Chasing is a lot harder than carrying the puck, so I think we just have to be a little bit smarter within the system that is laid out. I know you guys are probably sick of hearing this, you know, system, system, system ... but every year it's gotten more important in this League, and the teams that are most disciplined are the teams that master their system the quickest. They usually end up doing the best.

Q: What's it been like for you to deal with your own struggles this season?

Miller: For me, I've just been trying to kind of work on my game. It got to the point where I was trying to work through something and then I missed three weeks (with a concussion). It's been tough to kind of battle back from that. I felt like in the last few weeks my game's been close to where it needs to be and I'm just trying to hinge everything off that point there, where I missed three weeks. So, I give myself a little break on a few situations coming back, but I'm starting to feel more like myself and more like I'm finding the habits that maybe crept into my game -- what needs to be eliminated and what needs to be enhanced.

It is hard when you feel like things aren't going right or things aren't bouncing your way. You can certainly see it within the team, just the number of man-games we've lost to injury. A lot of guys just kind of feel it like that. It's like, 'Are we even going to get through a game without losing somebody?' We've had like only two or three of those games in the last two months ... literally.

Q: You said you were working through some things and then you got the concussion. What kind of things were you working through before getting hurt?

Miller: Oh, I don't know. We'd lost a few games in a row and then I was hurt. I mean, in Buffalo that's, you know ... a big deal.

Q: You haven't really had to deal with this in your career before, have you?

Miller: No, not really. I've been pretty fortunate, because nothing's going to be forward and onward and upward every time. There's going to be plateaus and you're going to stumble a little bit, but the idea is to keep moving forward and learning and adapting. The game is constantly changing, our team is changing. Our team changed from last year quite a bit and from the year before that our D-corps has shifted completely. You see things that change and you try and roll and change with it and adapt. As a team, our system, everything ... we're trying to grow into being current and relevant. Where we were at our best, that's quite a while ago now. Those days are gone. That kind of hockey is not being played. So, we're just trying to adapt.

Q: Drew made a decision to come back to the Wings as a free agent and has worked his way into and every-night role there. How nice is it for you to see that?

Miller: I'm very proud of him. I think it's a great situation for him. I was happy that the Wings took a chance on him. When he was on waivers there, the teams he had been with didn't really know what they had. They used him in a very limited role, kind of carrying his reputation from college as a defensive-minded kind of player. Knowing Drew and knowing what he's capable of with his hands and growing up watching him do amazing things in lacrosse and hockey, and then
watching how his hockey sense and his smarts are applied to that, you have a more complete player than other teams were using him as.

It's always been about his size, but I've yet to see him get knocked off a puck. Then it was always about, "You know, he's not as offensive as we need him to be," but I've seen him ... he can play with first line, second line, third line and fourth line. He's adaptable and he's skilled. I think he's one of the more complete hockey players I've seen in a long time. I'm a little biased, but if you can put somebody who can kill penalties like him and play in the D zone the way he can, and then put him in some of the times he's had to come up with the first and second line just to fill in for some guys ... you don't see many players who can do that, so I think the Wings got a bargain.

Q: Would you mind maybe opening up and telling us what it's like dealing with a concussion? How has it affected your season and also, is it different for a goalie than for a skater?

Miller: My issue is that every time it happens it affects your focus and concentration. You feel like you have ADD. You feel like you have extreme ADD when you have the headaches and the uncomfortable off feeling. I think history can kind of show that I'm a very intense, focused person. And when I can't even get through like a 10-to-15 minute task at home, which I can usually sit down and do, something's wrong.

Q: What kind of tasks?

Miller: Anything. Like, if I tell myself I'm going to sit down and just watch a movie, read a book, whatever, 10 or 15 minutes and then I'm just like, spacing out. That's one of the symptoms. It's frustrating and it's something that I think is misunderstood about concussions, especially in sports. It's like, "Oh, you got your bell run." And when you're cleared to play, it's like, "It's been seven days. You're fine. You're clear and you should be fine." Well, your brain controls everything in your body, even emotions. Like ... you feel depressed. You feel like you can't focus and obviously if you go on the ice and try to play hockey at the highest level, as a goaltender with pucks coming at you and trying to maintain awareness and read the plays, it's definitely not a great situation.

Q: Other players take 45 second shifts. You're out there for 60 minutes.

Miller: Goalies ... our prep starts the night before and it's all day to day. I'm a more animated person, but when I'm around you guys it's still business and I'm focused. It's a focus that you have for a long time to do a job right and you have to do that every day -- you have to get on the ice and be really focused and into what you're doing ... and that feeling kind of takes you out of it. I just think that, as we understand more, it's been obvious to see there's more times in guys' careers that they can point to something where they've been affected by it. I think we are only scratching the surface to what is going on with it and the game's getting faster.
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