How hard is it to become not just an NHL All-Star goaltender, but also a starting one at that? Well in the 37-year history of the Buffalo Sabres, Ryan Miller becomes just the second goaltender to capture that title.
Buffalo has seen 31 different goalies suit up for its franchise before the announcement on Tuesday that named Miller the 2006-07 Eastern Conference starter for the game in Dallas, TX on January 24. Only Dominick Hasek had been voted to start in goal for his conference, doing so in the 1997-98 and 1998-99 All-Star games.
Miller becomes the sixth Sabres goaltender to become an All-Star, following the likes of Dave Dryden (1973-74), Gerry Desjardins (1976-77), Tom Barasso (1984-85), Daren Puppa (1989-90), and Hasek (1995-96, 96-97, 97-98, 98-99).
Learning that he will be the starting goaltender brought a big smile to Miller's face, especially with the competition he faced to get the starting nod, beating out netminders such as Ray Emery of the Ottawa Senators, Christobal Huet of the Montreal Canadiens, and eight-time All-Star attendee Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils.
"It's pretty amazing," said Miller. "Especially when you think about the goalies we have in the Eastern Conference. To be recognized by the fans as the starting goalie is amazing.
"To have those people vote in my direction over guys like Brodeur and Huet, who are having unbelievable years. It feels good."
Going into Wednesday's game against Chicago, Miller has 21 wins, just four behind Brodeur for the league lead, and has helped the Sabres gain a foothold as the top team in the Eastern Conference with a record of 30-9-3 (63 points). Miller's 0.914 save percentage and 2.67 goals against average are good enough for fifth in the conference in both categories.
The Sabres saw potential in the Michigan State netminder when they drafted him in 1999 with their fifth round pick (138th overall). The league also saw that potential in Miller four years ago when they picked him to play in the Future Stars game during the 2002-03 season. A lot of hard work and dedication was put in through the years, to harness that potential.
"You have to start somewhere," said Miller. "You don't just become an All-Star because you're drafted high. You have to come into the league and perform."
"Ryan has paid his dues in the American League level," said Sabres and Eastern Conference All-Star coach Lindy Ruff. "I think he's worked hard at every level. We've got two guys (including defenseman Brian Campbell) that have gone through the system and have seen some real nice rewards for putting some real hard time in."
The Sabres coach and goaltender both know they wouldn't be heading to Dallas if Buffalo played a different style of hockey.
"It comes with the attitude of the entire team," said Miller. "I definitely wouldn't be here if we didn't play a team game. I play better in that kind of environment.
"We have a group of guys that buys into something and we all pull and we all push for the same thing."
"It says a lot about our team that we're getting represented by three guys that are very important pieces of our team," said Ruff. "We all realize, and I realize as a coach, that any success in the win category usually comes because we've had 20 players participate in most wins on most nights."
Miller won't think about his new status as an All-Star now, but instead will think about it at the appropriate time.
He does know that when that time comes, it will be fun to reflect on, especially knowing that the whole team should be there with him.
"We're being recognized (as all-stars) because we have a good team effort, said Miller. "There are a lot of other guys in the room that could logically be on this team.
"It's going to be fun to represent Buffalo, you always try to think that if you could try to take everybody with you, you would."