What a difference a day – or in Ryan Miller’s case – an Olympics can make.
As the No. 1 goaltender with the Buffalo Sabres, Miller has long been a celebrity of sorts in Western New York, as well as in his hometown of East Lansing, Mich., where he starred at Michigan State University.
But thanks to a spectacular run on Olympic ice, Miller has become a household name among Americans who don’t normally pay attention to the game.
For those who tuned in to watch Miller's heroics at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, what they saw was a 29-year-old goaltender with incredible athleticism and composure holding down the fort for an underdog U.S. Team.
Miller’s name was quickly on the lips, texts and Tweets of people across the country with his impressive 5-0 start, including a quarterfinal shutout against Switzerland. He and Team USA shocked the powerful Canadians during a thrilling 5-3 victory on Feb. 21, and had a nation dreaming of another miracle on ice.
But with a quick overtime shot from Sidney Crosby in the gold-medal rematch against Canada, Miller’s dream of Olympic victory was shattered.
“I don’t know how I’m going to deal with the loss,” Miller told to Vanity Fair’s Jessica Flint a week after watching the Canadians skate away with the gold.
Weeks after the Olympic flame has been snuffed out, Miller’s time in the spotlight continues to burn bright. Two-days after the final match, Miller and the Sabres traveled to Pittsburgh, the professional home of Crosby, where he was greeted with a standing ovation during a pregame ceremony to honor Olympic participants.
“It was a little surreal,” Miller told NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “Usually they want to tell you that you're not a very good player, but they use other language.”
Crosby, on the other hand, was welcomed with cheers followed by boos and chants of “U-S-A” upon the replay of his golden goal.
“Pittsburgh [has] very loyal fans and it makes sense that they were just as loyal to their country,” Miller said.
U.S. fans have stayed loyal to Miller as well: stopping him on the street to congratulate him, thanking him for his role Team USA’s run and for helping to foster a love of hockey in their children. And jersey collectors, itching for a piece of American hockey history, have driven the auction price of Miller’s jersey from Team USA’s defeat of Norway over the $6,000 mark on auctions.nhl.com.
(The auction closes on Thursday night for those looking to own a piece of Olympic history.)
But thanks to his Olympic exploits casual hockey fans have taken notice of Miller’s accomplishments even though he has consistently been among the league leaders in wins, goals-against average and save percentage in propelling the Sabres to the top of the Northeast Division this season.
“We’ve definitely seen an uptake in the [media] requests that are coming in for Ryan,” said Michael Gilbert, director of public relations for the Sabres. “Obviously during the Olympics, and a couple weeks after the Olympics, they were far greater, and we try to manage them the best we can and have Ryan do the most that he can.”
In an effort to accommodate the media’s fascination with the Olympic hockey MVP, Miller stayed in New York City following a Sabres’ victory over the Rangers for a media day.
Miller and his shining silver medal traveled to Rockefeller Center for a televised interview with The Today Show’s Matt Lauer where he was greeted with cheers from a roaring crowd of fans. Miller noted his appreciation for the outpouring of support from the American people when asked about his standing ovation in Pittsburgh.
“It felt amazing,” Miller said. “Just to have that moment where the American fans were taking notice and everything I’ve heard since ... everyone appreciated the tournament. Even people who weren’t hockey fans. Hopefully we’ve built some hockey fans.”
Miller continued on his New York media tour giving interviews to Vanity Fair, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and VH-1’s Top 20 Countdown – unusual places to find an article about a goaltender.
“Now some non-traditional hockey outlets see [Miller’s accomplishments] and there’s a lot of patriotism in the U.S.,” Gilbert said. “There’s a lot of people that saw Ryan perform at that level and now they want to do something with him.”
“They want to know more about me, my personality,” Miller said of the media. “I’m not overly shy, but I'm not looking for the spotlight.”
Though the increased national, and occasionally non-hockey related, attention is new to Miller, he’s not about to shy away from an opportunity to promote the sport to a new group of hockey fans.
“It’s important for hockey,” Miller said. “If people are interested in me, it's my job to be available.”
In the meantime, the Sabres have clinched a playoff spot and are focused on a long run toward their first Stanley Cup title. If the recent past is any indication, the playoffs will once again be Miller's time to shine.