Tyler Ennis spoke with a familiar face outside the Buffalo Sabres’ dressing room after practice at First Niagara Center.
Ryan Miller returned to the Sabres’ rink on Friday for the first time since he was traded in the 2013-14 season. He practiced in the building for the first time in an opposing uniform and, on Saturday, he’ll start against the Sabres as the goaltender for the Vancouver Canucks.
He thought he’d be back sooner, but an injury in the days leading up to his return last season and a busy summer as a husband and father delayed his return to this point.
“Maybe staying away a little bit longer is kind of a shock to the system to see so much has changed,” Miller said. “I’m really excited for the city in that regard, there’s some nice things happening and people seem to be responding really well to that.”
As he stood at the same podium where he gave a tearful goodbye when he was traded almost two years ago, it was clear how much the city still means to Miller as he spoke about his excitement for its development on and off the ice.
“I spent a lot of time here and tried to connect the best I could to the community and felt like I was a part of it,” he said. “A lot of the guys have actually been asking me what Buffalo is all about. The simplest answer is you get to know the city, you get to know the people and that’s really where it’s at.
“That’s what always has made it a great place is once you kind of show people who you are and they accept you, I think they feel like you’re always a part of that.”
It’s no surprise that, upon his return, Miller took the time to visit the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, a cause he championed while he played in Buffalo. He was glad to hear that rookie forward Jack Eichel has been dedicating time to Carly’s Club, a Roswell initiative dedicated to supporting families of children with pediatric cancer.
“I think that’s awesome,” he said. “I think that anytime you can establish something like that at a young age with these guys – give them a sense of proportion in the world, what’s really going on out there and let them know that there’s more going on than coming to the rink and trying to put on a show.
“I think when they understand that the community is going to come out and support you, but that there’s a bigger part to the community, it helps the club, it helps everyone become something bigger.”
With 284 wins as a Sabre, Miller is the all-time winningest goaltender in the franchise’s history. He played 11 seasons in Buffalo, reaching the postseason four times and winning the Vezina Trophy in 2010.
Nobody knows the challenge that Miller will present for the Sabres better than Ennis, his teammate for parts of five seasons.
“My best memory of Ryan is probably the fact that I don’t think I scored on him ever in four years when he was in practice,” Ennis said. “He’s an incredible goalie; hopefully I’ll have my best memory tomorrow if I can get one on him.”
Miller would get upset in practice, Ennis said, even if a player scored on a rebound in a drill after the next guy had already started. The stories that Ennis and defenseman Mike Weber – the two longest-tenured Sabres – told of Miller weren’t unlike the tales you’d hear from teammates of Dominik Hasek.
But Miller’s leadership went beyond competition. He was one of the first guys on the ice and last ones off for practice. He was involved in the community and vocal in the locker room. For young players, Weber said, he was the kind of guy whose shoes you wanted to fill.
“Early on in my career he kind of took me under his wing,” the defenseman said. “The way he sees the game is probably unlike a lot of players that play in this league. He has a real thinking mind, just the way he sees certain things break down … and how he could talk to you and help you out back there was pretty huge as a defenseman.”
“We had a lot of captains through the years when he was here but I think he was probably our most consistent captain.”
Coverage of Buffalo’s game against Vancouver on Saturday will begin at 12:30 p.m. on MSG-B with puck drop set for 1 p.m. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
While the game might be an emotional one for the Canucks’ goalie, the Sabres are trying to treat it like any other contest. Buffalo is 5-8-0 and looking to avoid a second-straight loss after falling to Tampa Bay 4-1 on Thursday.
“He’s a special player, special goaltender and like I said it’s always nice to see him,” Weber said. “It’ll be even nicer to get the win over him tomorrow.”
Sabres defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo was absent from Friday’s practice after missing the game on Thursday with an upper-body injury. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said that he is still day-to-day and will not play on Saturday but that he “is doing just fine.”
26 Matt Moulson – 90 Ryan O’Reilly – 12 Brian Gionta
22 Johan Larsson – 15 Jack Eichel – 88 Jamie McGinn
63 Tyler Ennis – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 23 Sam Reinhart
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 17 David Legwand – 82 Marcus Foligno
Defensemen: 4 Josh Gorges, 3 Mark Pysyk, 29 Jake McCabe, 55 Rasmus Ristolainen, 6 Mike Weber, 46 Cody Franson
35 Linus Ullmark
31 Chad Johnson