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Ryan Miller learns to deal with the spotlight

by Shawn P. Roarke
VANCOUVER -- Despite being the focal point of his team -- both here at the Olympics and with his club team, the Buffalo Sabres -- Team USA goalie Ryan Miller is not overly fond of the resulting spotlight.

Yet it has been almost impossible for Miller to avoid the limelight as his team has progressed through this tournament, winning all five of its games -- in large part because of the brilliance of its goalie -- to advance to a dream gold-medal final against host Canada Sunday afternoon at Canada Hockey Place (3:15 p.m., NBC, CTV, TSN, SNET, V, RDS). So, he has embraced -- if at times tentatively -- the role of this team's star player and statesman.

Goalies, it seems, are always the center of attention. It is both the blessing and the curse of their chosen profession. But, it probably has never been more keenly felt than in this tournament.
All the story lines here for the past two weeks have revolved around goalies -- the benching of Martin Brodeur by Team Canada, the brilliance of Jonas Hiller for Switzerland, the meltdowns of Evgeni Nabokov and Miikka Kiprusoff for Russia and Finland, respectively.

"When you get to the ultimate game, the team with the best goalie probably wins," American coach Ron Wilson said Friday after his team enjoyed a 6-1 rout of Finland to book passage into a replay of the gold-medal game in 2002.

As the hype builds for the Showdown Sunday redux between these intense border rivals, many can argue that Miller is the best goalie in the game today.

He certainly has been the best goalie in the tournament. Of that, there is no argument.

Miller has allowed just five goals in five starts and his 1.05 goals-against average is tops in the tournament. In last Sunday's pool-play win over the Canadians -- the victory that delivered the Americans the top seed in this tournament -- Miller was the difference, making 42 saves, many of the incredible variety.

But this young American team expects nothing less from Miller, who has been among the world's best goalies for the past five years. They have seen him carry small-market Buffalo to the heights of competitiveness year in and out.

Team USA forward Chris Drury played in Buffalo for three years, watching Miller develop from a young man with potential to a consistent game-stealer. In Drury's last two seasons with Buffalo -- '06-'07 and '07-'08 -- Miller was a big reason why Buffalo reached the Eastern Conference Finals.

"He has this quiet calm intensity about him," Drury said. "Amazingly, as good as I thought he was years ago, when we won the Presidents' Trophy and lost to Ottawa in the conference finals; he's light years past that now."

Drury credits the transformation to Miller's intensity, which rivals that of any he has seen in his 11-year tenure in the NHL. Miller, he says, is a man with a plan, who is consumed by the desire to be the best at everything he does.

"I think he knows where he wants to be at 2:30 tomorrow and I think in the back of his head, he knows where he wants to be 15 years from now," Drury says. "He was a neat teammate to have them and I am glad to be playing with him now."

Miller has shown incredible focus throughout this tournament, but perhaps never more so than in Friday's win against Finland. The Americans put up a six-spot in the first 13 minutes of the game to turn it into a laugher.

Yet Miller never cracked a smile -- not until he was relieved in the third period to get backup Tim Thomas an Olympic appearance. As he skated to the bench, Miller was the proud owner of a scoreless streak that surpassed 111 minutes.

While his teammates were scoring goals and celebrating with group hugs at one end, Miller was lost in his own thoughts, already playing out the next potential line rush by the Finns

"No matter what the score is, you've got to assume that the other team is just as capable of scoring as your team and keep it together," Miller told "My job can't change whether it is 6-0, 1-0, 0-0 or we are down a goal. I have to stop the puck every opportunity I get and, if one gets by me, I have to reset and get ready to do it again.

"If I start to feel we have a game wrapped up, I'm not doing my job."

Team USA GearThat single-mindedness is what has driven Miller on the path from good goalie to potential gold medal-winning goalie.

"He's just such a student of the game now," Wilson says. "He knows and studies the tendencies of the shooters. He knows how to handle all the situations around the net."

Brian Burke, the man who built this team, believes that Miller is the reason why the Americans have a chance to deny the Canadians a gold-medal that many deeded to the host nation before this tournament even began.

"He's been terrific. No question about it," Burke said Saturday. "We can't get where we are ... I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you today without Ryan Miller. Someone else would be sitting here. Ryan Miller has been our best player.

"What I like best about him is he's calm. He's not like Denis Lemieux in 'Slap Shot,' screaming and yelling and flopping around. He is calm and economical and efficient, and our young players get confidence from that; they gain poise from that."

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