Canucks netminder stars against Detroit, getting a rare win over his brother.
We would ask you to meet the Millers but, honestly, there were just too many at Saturday’s game to name them all.
Vancouver Canuck goalie Ryan Miller’s parents were in from Michigan, and there were relatives visiting from Calgary, Regina and Oregon and a cousin from Chilliwack. Miller, one of five cousins who made it to the National Hockey League from Michigan State University, said he hadn’t seen a couple of his relatives since he was three years old.
“Tonight and Sunday, we’ll have a little reunion,” he said after the Canucks beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-1.
The catalyst for the Miller clan gathering was the opportunity to see Ryan, 34, face little brother, Drew, 30, on a Saturday night at the end of the holidays.
There is an old story that as boys, Ryan, who was all about rules and order, and Drew, not so much, once asked their dad Dean for Star Wars Imperial Guards to keep Drew out of Ryan’s bedroom. The goalie wouldn’t have needed them on Saturday.
Eight minutes into the game, Ryan kept Drew out with his pad, robbing the Red Wings’ winger on a point-blank shot from the top of the crease. It launched a superb, 29-save performance by Ryan that included a handful of sensational stops.
On the 10th day of Christmas, Ryan Miller was the nearest thing to a Lord-aLeaping.
“I’m trying to appreciate these kinds of things,” Miller said of facing his brother. “Not a whole lot of people have gotten a chance to do this.”
Then he named NHL goalieskater siblings Tony and Phil Esposito and the Biron brothers, Martin and Mathieu. He could have mentioned Henrik and Joel Lundqvist, Bob and J-F Sauve, Billy and Gord Smith, maybe one or two other family combos.
“When you think about how long pro hockey has been played, especially at the NHL level, not a lot of people get to do something like this,” Miller continued.
“So I try to just appreciate it and go out and treat it like a game I want to win, but I try to appreciate that I have friends and family and my brother is on the ice. I just want to be able to say that when the game’s over or my career’s over, we had fun with it and took time on the ice to appreciate each other and compete against each other.”
Miller said it had been a while since he had beaten Drew. “Or ever. I owed him a win.”
Miller has paid back what he owed the Canucks after his December slump was a key component in a fivegame losing streak that dropped his team from the top of the Western Conference standings.
Since re-setting himself by missing a Dec. 17 start against the Dallas Stars, which allowed Miller a full week to practise and re-energize, the American Olympian is 4-1-1 with a 1.67 goalsagainst average and .950 save rate.
In his five starts before that, beginning with a 5-3 loss against his brother and the Red Wings on Nov. 30, Miller posted a 4.11 GAA and .843 save rate.
In his first full season outside the Eastern Conference, the former Buffalo Sabre has cycled between short spells of superior and mediocre form, but nothing as dramatic as what he has shown the last five weeks.
He spoke before Christmas about fatigue and needing to better manage the physical demands of playing in the far-flung Western Conference. He has made small changes in his routine, such as skipping the morning skate against the Wings.
It’s hard to believe the Ryan Miller who was in position and in-tune to make brilliant lateral saves Saturday against Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Jurco — in the third period as the Canucks clung to a 1-0 lead — is the same goalie who a month ago seemed to struggle to track the puck and was surrendering questionable goals nightly.
“Just getting used to the west and how practices and workouts and travel all kind of shake out, I think I have a better understanding moving forward what I want to do and how I want to approach it,” he explained Saturday.
“Since Christmas, I think I’ve structured it the right way. Coaches have structured it the right way and I think the guys overall have good energy. It’s just something to get used to. Now I know better and pay attention to it.
“You have to get the workouts, you have to get the practise. You want to be fresh for games. Those first few road trips and that stretch of 15 (games) in 26 days, all that was a bit of wake-up call for me. After Christmas now, I’m going to try to manage all that a little better.”
In a span of two weeks, Miller has boosted his save rate for the season from .900, near the bottom of the NHL among starters, to .913 — just a couple of saves below his career average of .915. His 20 wins are tied for fifth in the league.
“I always try and find a way to believe in myself,” Miller said.
“A lot of people try to tell you not to. I don’t think I’ve ever gone through a season ... even the season in 2010, winning the Vezina Trophy, I had bad stretches. Not as long or as significant sometimes, but you have stretches and you’ve got to be able to get through them.
“It’s not easy mentally. I’ve been playing a long time and it still feels like I’m a young player sometimes going through a (bad) stretch. My main thing was just to get back to a high-compete level and give these guys a chance to win and see how it shakes out. That’s really all you can do.”