It was no surprise that a frenzy of people surrounded Ryan Miller
’s locker following practice at HSBC Arena.
The netminder is accustomed to dealing with interviews.
It was unusual, however, that not one of the questions directed at the Sabres goaltender dealt with upcoming opponents, or even hockey in general.
Instead, the attention was on 10-year-old Tony Izzo, who had just fulfilled a lifelong wish of meeting his favorite Buffalo athlete.
Tony, who suffers from mitochondrial genetic disorder, was granted a weekend with the Buffalo Sabres in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. His stay included suite tickets to the Dec. 1 game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Sabres merchandise and a special meeting with Miller- with some surprises along the way.
“It really makes you realize what things are important in life,” Tony’s mother Jennifer said of his illness. “It’s not about money or how famous you can be or how far you can get in your job and I look at Tony and, this is life; putting a smile on a child’s face.”
The disease renders Tony’s body “unable to completely burn food and oxygen in order to generate energy” according to the Cleveland Clinic Web site. The illness has, in particular, caused cataracts, a tethered spinal cord and affected his muscles and coordination.
“Maybe because he can’t fully participate in a sport… I think being able to be a part of something like this where he can watch his favorite players, and Ryan Miller
… and be a part of the whole thing is just such a huge thrill for him,” his father Tony Izzo said.
Tony and his family watched the Buffalo Sabres practice at HSBC Arena Friday before being ushered into the locker room.
There, he was met by his idol.
Miller greeted his family and talked with Tony by his stall, showing his equipment piece by piece. He even allowed Tony to put on his glove- a rarity in the superstitious world of goaltenders who do not allow their gear to be touched.
Miller then told Tony the significance of the symbols on his helmet.
An explanation would not be the only thing Tony received.
Miller then signed a framed picture Tony brought with him, and gave him something else to take home- two No. 30 Sabres jerseys, one for Tony and his brother Matt, which he signed as well.
After chatting with the goalie in the Sabres dressing room- Tony asked him how life was on the ice- Miller also presented Tony with two game-used autographed goalie sticks.
“Just don’t tell Willie [equipment manager Dave Williams] about this,” Miller joked.
“It will be something he will never forget,” Mrs. Izzo said of the experience. “It’s hard to put into words. He goes through so much on a day-to-day basis. To have the opportunity to do something special, you can’t put into words how much it means to him and to our family to get this and to have his dream [come true].”
The wish continued Saturday as Tony and his family watched the Sabres light up the Hurricanes 8-1 at HSBC Arena.
Prior to the start of the game, as the Sabres left the dressing room, Tony finished the second portion of his wish as he gave a high-five to every player before they got to the bench.
Tony also met up with head coach Lindy Ruff.
“He actually asked me [who I thought should be captain for the month of December] and I said Brian Campbell,” Tony said.
Coincidentally, Tony got that wish too as Ruff announced Campbell would wear the “C” following the morning skate Dec 1.
Ruff put Tony in charge of an important project concerning the announcement as well: presenting Campbell with his updated jersey.
“We had a lot of inspiration,” Ruff said in his post-game press conference, “because Tony was with us yesterday and Tony again was with us tonight and he handed Brian Campbell his game jersey with the “C” on it at 6:20 p.m. to get us going. A lot of that [success] lies on Tony’s shoulders.”
Tony was pleased with the evaluation.
“I’m their good luck charm,” he said.
Bringing the Sabres good fortune was perhaps the best part for Tony. And it wasn’t even on his wish list.