U.S.'s low-key goalie Ryan Miller OK with spotlight
Ryan Miller, a big star in U.S. hockey circles, finds himself in the glare of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, where hockey is an obsession.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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VANCOUVER, B.C. — Ryan Miller is a pretty big name in hockey circles.
He recently signed a five-year contract worth $31.25 million with the Buffalo Sabres, was a starter at goalie in the 2007 NHL All-Star Game, and in 2001 was named the top collegiate player in the United States while at Michigan State.
But hockey's circle in the United States is nowhere near as wide as it is in Canada. For Canadians, Miller says, "it's life."
"We're kind of a cult sport." he said of hockey's status in the U.S.
One that for many fans, arises only every four years for the Winter Olympics, staying afloat as long as the United States remains in medal contention.
Thanks largely to Miller, the U.S. is on one of its best Olympic runs, facing Finland on Friday at noon in a semifinal. A victory would clinch at least a silver medal for the Americans, who have won just one medal, a silver in 2002, since their memorable 1980 gold.
Canada faces Slovakia at Friday at 6:30 p.m. in the other semifinal.
Suddenly, Miller is a hot name in circles he has never before traveled.
Thursday, he found himself enveloped in another circle — a group of reporters surrounding him — and called it all "a little surreal."
He's a guy who'd rather stay in the background, joking that all of the attention has come "despite my best efforts not to have it happen."
Miller has been the breakout star as the U.S. has won its first four games. He helped shut out Switzerland 2-0 in the quarterfinals, and made 42 saves in the historic 5-3 win over Canada on Sunday — the United States' first over its neighbor to the north since 1960.
When the Canada game was over, his name was a trendy topic on Twitter.
"That kind of blows me away," said Miller, 29. "One of my friends said one of the Jonas Brothers mentioned me on Twitter, and Alyssa Milano. It's just very different for me. My attention has always been concentrated among people in Buffalo who want to know what's going on with me, and that's about it."
His United States teammates say Miller's low-key demeanor helps him in goal.
"He never really makes huge, huge saves, acrobatic saves, because he's always in good position," said defenseman Brooks Orpik, an NHL rival with the Pittsburgh Penguins. "It just seems like the puck just hits him. He just seems so calm in the net, and a team takes over some of the goalies' attitude and how he handles himself, and to see how calm he is out there kind of calms the whole team down."
Handling nerves figures to be big for the U.S. on Friday as it faces a Finnish team that is a surprise semifinalist. Finland beat the Czech Republic 2-0 in the quarterfinals behind its own hot goalie — Miikka Kiprusoff, who plays for the Calgary Flames.
Kiprusoff and Miller have the two best save percentages in the tournament — Kiprusoff at 94.67 percent (71 of 75) and Miller at 94.44 (85 of 90).
"It's going to be a lot of work for us to get a goal or two," said U.S. defenseman Brian Rafalski.
So the heat will be on Miller to follow suit. And if he succeeds, he'll likely be in an even brighter spotlight afterward, wanted or not. He laughed and said that there have even been stories about his girlfriend, actress Noureen DeWulf.
Miller, a business major at Michigan State, understands it. And, for a few more days, he can handle it.
"I'm trying to roll with it because this is good for the game of hockey," he said. "These are the moments when we've got the country's attention. If people are interested in hockey and interested in me, why not open up a little bit. We might gain some hockey fans, might gain a young person who enjoys hockey. That's part of our responsibility."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com.
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.