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Sabres Central

Sabres continue to roll in 2003
By Rick Anderson
January 18, 2003

Ryan Miller protects the Sabres goal in first period play as Sharks left wing Marco Sturm gets off a shot on the Sabres goalie. Miller made 31 saves and was solid in preserving a 2-2 tie.
[AP Photo/Paul Sakuma]

2002 could not have been a worse year for the Buffalo Sabres. Not only did they fail to make the playoffs for the first time in half a decade, but with John Rigas having his cable empire come crumbling down along with being arrested, the Sabres future was put in peril. The team got off to a horrendous start this season, sinking to the very bottom of the league. This new year of 2003 has been a blessing for the Sabres on the ice.

The Sabres are 5-1 so far in January. One of the biggest reasons for the turnaround in the Sabres fortunes is rookie goalie Ryan Miller. Miller has been a brick wall so far in his second stint with the Sabres. On Tuesday, Miller recorded his first NHL shutout, in blanking the Minnesota Wild 1-0. Miller had shutout the New York Islanders for 60 minutes on New Years Eve, but lost in overtime, so officially that was not recorded as a shutout. Against the Wild, one of the surprise teams of the year, Miller was stellar in making 22 saves and shutting the door when he had to.

Denis Hamel got the only goal the Sabres needed against the Wild, scoring in the third period. Hamel took a pass and one-timed it past former Sabre goalie Dwayne Roloson as it hit the crossbar and went in.

Miller said the shutout was good, but it wasn't the prime importance to him. He said, "More so than that, it's a great win on the road. We've got some more work to do on the road so it feels great just to get the win. I had a lot of experience with that shutout thing in college."

Marty Biron, who hadn't started since December 30th against the Caps, finally got into the nets last Saturday in his old stomping grounds of Montreal. The Sabres also won that game, coming back to win in the third period. Biron made 25 saves and looked solid in getting the win.

Miller time part 5

Miller has been a force to be reckoned with in his second tour of duty for the Sabres. In fact, it would not be too far fetched in saying that Miller is the big reason for the Sabres 180 degree turnaround.

Against the Wild, Miller made a Dominik Hasek-type rush on a oncoming opponent. With Cliff Ronning coming one-on-one at Miller, the goalie came way out and left a gapping net. Ronnie must have lost his concentration with the goalie's challenge and lost the puck.

"I figured I'd better force him to make a decision or else he'd have pumped one right in," described Miller. "Once I challenged him, he changed his mind and decided to pass it. Those are the gambles you take."

Roloson was also outstanding against his ex-team, making 26 saves and preventing the Sabres from running up the score.

"Whoa boy. I thought Ryan was very good and Roloson was real good, too," lauded Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "Both were near perfect."

Miller was also great in San Jose against the Sharks in a 2-2 tie, a city where he spent two formidable years of his youth playing hockey. In fact, it was in San Jose where Miller had to convince his father that he wanted to play goalie instead of being a forward.

When Miller was playing youth hockey with the Santa Clara Valley Blackhawks, Miller was a forward but suddenly wanted to become a goalie. Being only 7 years old, his father was dead set against the idea.

``He was not at all eager for me to switch,'' admitted Ryan. ``He wanted me to be a good skater and he wanted me to be a forward. He was kind of biased as a forward: Goalies are always the weird ones, kind of the outcasts. But he has got a lot more respect for the position now that he's had to watch me grow with it.''

Ryan's dad, Dean Miller, moved his family to San Jose for a couple years for his job with Symantec. He was a solid forward in his first year with the Blackhawks. In the second year, he started thinking about a radical change in positions. His dad, who was a forward for Michigan State the latter part of the 70s, wanted his son to follow in the family tradition. Three of his cousins, Kelly, Kip and Kevin, made the NHL as forwards. In fact, Kip and Kevin played for the hometown Sharks. It would take a lot of convincing to get his dad to agree.

"I refused to play hockey until I could play goalie,'' insisted Miller. "Then my dad made a deal with me. If I got a certain amount of points in one game, like a hat trick and three assists, then I could play goalie. I got it and I haven't played forward since, except once out of necessity."

Vache Moroyan, a former teammate of Ryan's on the Blackhawks, was shocked that Miller decided to put the goalie mask on.

"I was kind of shocked, because he was a pretty good forward,'' said Moroyan. "He wasn't really a big kid to play goal, but obviously he made the right decision."

Playing before friends and neighbors Thursday night in the Pond, Miller shut down the Shark attack for two period. Then he displayed a little shakiness that was evident in his first stint with the Sabres. In his first game in the NHL, Miller had a shutout going after two periods only to allow a barrage of third period goals to lose. Against the Sharks, the same seemed certain to happen. With the score 0-0, the Sabres took the lead on James Patrick's powerplay goal, just 30 seconds after the faceoff to open the third period. That was short-lived as just 2:25 later, the Sharks tied up the game when Jonathan Cheechoo's blast ricocheted off Miller's catching glove and into the net. That was when it appeared as if Miller's confidence was shaken again, like in his first game. 1:17 after Cheechoo's goal, Teemu Selanne pushed the puck under Miller's pads and the Sharks suddenly had the momentum and the lead.

"He looked a little shaken just for a second with the two quick ones that went in," described Ruff. "It was another pretty solid effort. He had the door closed there for quite some time."

Chris Gratton got the Sabres back in the game when he got his first goal in weeks with 9:24 remaining in the game. It was only Grattons's second goal in 26 games.

Miller came on after the second goal and regained his composure, making 31 saves in the game and was good in the overtime, ensuring the 2-2 tie.

Sabres Talk

Mark Hamister got another extension from the NHL to get his papers before he can sign an asset purchase agreement to buy the team.

"I don't expect any further extensions, but I also expect to sign the asset management agreement by then,"stated Hamister in a press conference from his office on Friday. "As soon as the agreement is ready to sign, we will sign it."

Hamister said that he is still working closely with the New York State and local governments to get the funding needed too pay off a loan the Sabres took out for the construction of HSBC Arena and for improvements to the Arena and surrounding areas.

"For every two or three (proposed plans) that don't work, we find one that does work," Hamister said. "This is not unlike deck chairs being moved around. Things were different on Tuesday and they might be different again on this Tuesday."

Hamister said that he expects the signing of the purchase agreement to be done by next Friday. As for getting the government grants and concessions, that is another matter. The sale of the team will be contingent on getting those from the respective governments.

The Sabres, meanwhile try to just concentrate what's happening on the ice.

"We can't do anything about it," explained Miller. "I'm looking at it as a positive, from the standpoint that there are a lot of financial situations that can be sorted out."

"First thing for us is to go out and play hockey," agreed Hamel, who scored his first goal this season against the Wild.

"Denny's shot just fooled him," Ruff described the shot that beat Roloson. "It knuckleballed to just the right spot. We've played well, in fact we ought to be running on six straight (victories) right now."

"Denny and I had a conversation this morning and I said to him, "It's funny how in Rochester all of your shots were going in,' " explained Ruff about Hamel's slump. "Why do you think they're not going in now? And he said to me, "They'll go in.' "

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