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Ryan Miller concedes nothing

by John McGourty /

Ryan Miller has backstopped the Buffalo Sabres to the Eastern Conference Finals the past two seasons. 
Since the 1975 release of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the Black Knight has come to symbolize human resistance to on-rushing defeat.

"It's just a flesh wound!"

”Tis but a scratch."

"I've had worse," and "All right, then. I suppose we'll call it a draw," have all entered the pantheon of oft-repeated phrases to identify situations when all hope of victory is lost.

A decade earlier, Ken Kesey authored the greatly overlooked Sometimes A Great Notion, in which the main character, Hank Stamper, lives by the code, "never give an inch." Starring Paul Newman, Never Give An Inch, the tale of an Oregon lumberman grappling with a workers’ strike, was the first movie ever shown on HBO.

If the Kesey movie is ever remade, Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller should play the Hank Stamper role. It won't be a stretch and he won't have to ask the director, "What's my motivation?"

Why? Because Miller, despite his outward friendliness and quick humor, is a hard nut to crack. He backstopped the Buffalo Sabres to the Eastern Conference Finals the past two seasons. Last season, Miller became the first goaltender in Sabres' history to record 40 wins in a season. Miller was 40-16-6 with a 2.73 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage. He was even better in the playoffs, going 9-7 with a 2.22 GAA and .922 save percentage. Only 2007 Stanley Cup winner J.S. Giguere of the Anaheim Ducks has a better win percentage the past two seasons (.686) than Miller (.683).

Miller's dream of winning a Stanley Cup is just as strong as Giguere's, and he has pursued it at least as hard. He's from a family that has been the backbone of the Michigan State hockey program and his cousins, Kip, Kevin and Kelly, played in the NHL. His brother, Drew, was Giguere's teammate last spring, beating Ryan to the Stanley Cup.

Miller's own hopes of winning the Stanley Cup this season were dealt a blow when the Sabres' top two centers, Daniel Briere and Chris Drury, signed free-agent contracts July 1 with the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, respectively.

Miller was asked if the Sabres have taken a step back, after losing Briere and Drury. He used the opportunity to set the tone for the season.

"I think everyone in our team has stepped forward as far as experience-wise," Miller said. "So, I don't doubt that we have a team to get back there. I think that everyone has been talking about losing Briere and Drury, who obviously were key parts from the team. But we learned a lot from them and guys are going to have to step up and play bigger roles. We do have a core group of guys who are exciting to watch and are great hockey players.

"I think the big question two years ago leading into the season, was, how are you guys going to make up for the loss of -- I think we had four guys, (Jay) McKee, (Jean-Pierre) Dumont, (Mike) Grier and (Rory) Fitzpatrick. So, it's the same questions every year. Every team goes through losses and additions.

"In our case, we lost two very talented players, but I don't think that they defined the team completely. I think that they did a lot for us, but we also did a lot for them. It was a complete team effort, and that's kind of what they taught us and preached through their leadership -- we're going to do it as a team. It makes sense that we remain that same team with that same attitude."

Miller was pressed, asked not in so many words, if he was talking through his hat, finding the right words in the wake of devastating news, or if he truly believed what he was saying.

"I felt this way for the last few years. I don't think my attitude is going to change and I'm going to encourage the players on our team not to," Miller insisted. "It's going to fall -- leadership is going to have to shake out the way it kind of falls. It's going to be a learning experience in training camp and about how things are going to be handled and the way they are going to be handled. I think that should be the only question.

"Leadership is important, but I think we have the attitude there and it's evident with the experience there. It's just going to have to be how we manage it. You know, I can speak for myself and say that I'm going to try to step up and do as much as I can with the experience I gained and then from what I've learned from Chris Drury and Daniel Briere and keep moving forward, because I think I've learned a lot from them."

Miller has played only two full NHL seasons and parts of two others, but no grizzled veteran could have said it better.

The loss of Drury and Briere? "Tis but a scratch," as far as Miller's concerned.

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