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It's Miller Time at JLA

by Michael Caples / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – As kids growing up in East Lansing, Mich., Ryan and Drew Miller spent hours playing hockey throughout the neighborhood.

It was the perfect combination; older brother was the goalie, and younger brother tried to score on him as a forward.

“It worked out great,” Drew Miller said. “I had somebody to shoot on, and he had somebody to shoot on him. It was great, and we spend a lot of time on the rink and the street and the basement playing together.”

Working out great is an understatement, of course. Saturday the two brothers will face each just like they did in East Lansing, except this time it will be in Joe Louis Arena.

Drew, 26, a former Stanley Cup champion with Anaheim, is now playing for the Red Wings. And if his coaching staff gives him the go-ahead, Ryan, 29, the MVP from the recently concluded 2010 Winter Olympics, will be in goal for the Wings’ opponents – the Buffalo Sabres.

It will be a bigger stage, yet it’s the same sibling rivalry. The two have met twice before in NHL games. Earlier this season, Buffalo beat Drew’s Tampa Bay Lightning, 3-2. And in 2007, Drew’s Ducks beat the Sabres, 4-1. Drew hasn’t recorded any NHL points against his brother … yet.

“It’s fun,” Drew said of playing against his brother. “I played against him once with Anaheim, and then once this year with Tampa. We beat him in Anaheim, and then he beat us this year in a shootout. So, I’ll try to pull ahead of him in the win column, and then hopefully get some good shots and opportunities on him.”

When asked who holds the bragging rights so far, Drew said to ask him again after Saturday’s game.

“Maybe I’ll get a goal or an assist or something,” Drew said. “We’ll see. If anything, I’ll try to hit him with my stick or something, get a little piece of him.”

After Friday’s practice, Drew pointed out that facing his brother hinged on whether Ryan would play in both of Buffalo’s games this weekend. Patrick Lalime started Friday’s 3-2 home loss against Minnesota.

“Hopefully he does,” Drew said. “It will be fun for us to play against each other, here in Detroit. A lot of our family and friends will be here watching, so it would be a lot of fun.”

Hockey fans in Michigan should be familiar with some of the family members who might be at JLA on Saturday. Drew and Ryan are two of 10 Miller family members who played collegiate hockey at Michigan State University. Three cousins – Kelly, Kevin, and Kip Miller – all played in the NHL during the 1980s and 90s. Kevin spent three seasons with the Red Wings.

“Kelly, Kevin, and Kip, they would come back in the summer,” Drew said. “Ryan was 12, 13 years old and they were shooting on him pretty hard, so he’s been seeing those shots for a really long time, and you could tell back then he was good. He’s continued to progress, He’s a great goalie now, and he’s still getting better, he’s still learning. He’s very competitive, and he definitely takes pride in winning and trying to be the best he can.”

Drew said that even with the success his older brother has had, he never considered playing goalie, pointing out that the rest of the family were forwards or defensemen.

“Around eight or nine he started to get a little weird like the goalies do,” Drew joked.

The siblings don’t have much experience playing against each other in lower levels of hockey, either.

“He’s almost four years older than me, so growing up we never played against each other,” Drew said. “Then at Michigan State I just missed him. I would have graduated and I would have come in, but he left early so I missed him by two years.”

Despite the gap, Drew said that he and his brother are very close, spending as much time together as they can around busy NHL schedules.

“We played a lot of hockey in our life, but it wasn’t always all hockey,” Drew said. “We did a lot of other stuff together, just hang out, fishing, relaxing. We’re pretty close in the summer. We try to get as much time in as we can in the summer and hang out, so it wasn’t always hockey growing up, it was other things too.”

Drew said even he doesn’t know how many Miller family members and friends to expect in the stands.

“My parents said something about 30 tickets, and I’m sure there’s a lot of other people coming too,” he said. “I’m not sure of the whole list, but I know my mom and my dad and my other brother and sister will be here. As far as everyone else, I’m not sure.”

So what will the key be for the Wings to beat Drew’s older brother?

“Get a lot of shots on him, and we got to get him moving and working hard, because if he gets squared up on the puck he’s pretty good at stopping the puck then,” Drew said. “But if you get him moving and get traffic in front of him, make him work really hard and make him make mistakes, then we’ll get some opportunities to get goals.”

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