By the time Ryan Miller signed a three-year deal with the Vancouver Canucks, his hockey legacy was already fully established. But now, a year removed from his NHL retirement, the accolades are coming fast.
Last week, Miller was one of five inductees into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame’s 2022 class. The current winningest American goaltender in NHL history, Miller goes in alongside women’s national team members Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux, sled hockey player Steve Cash, and late US national team GM Jim Johannson.
Today, Miller joined Donnie & Dhali – The Team to talk about the honour.
“It’s gonna be a great class. Steve Cash being part of this is really cool, the Lamoureux twins I got to know over the course of some Olympics and watching them play, and Jim Johansen being a part of it as well,” Miller said.
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Miller spoke especially highly of Johannsson, who passed away in early 2018.
“Jimmy was one of my first contacts when I played in the World Championships out of college, and he was a big part of the international teams that I played for. He was a special guy, so it’s pretty cool to be a part of that group.”
Miller played 18 seasons across four different teams, including the Canucks, Sabres, Ducks and Blues. His first 11 years in Buffalo were his most notable, where he broke the franchise records for games played and wins, both set by Dominik Hasek. The Sabres are also going to honour Miller this year by retiring his #30 jersey to the rafters.
“Looking back on it, just how much hockey I was able to play in my life, that’s the fun part. It just never occurred to me that I’d have to stop playing hockey and it was fun to do it for so long,” Miller said.
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“And to make an impact on American hockey, it’s pretty cool to look back on.”
His time as a Canuck was a different kind of challenge. Despite a 64-68-16 record across three seasons, Miller loved playing in Vancouver and had nothing but good things to say about the locker room.
“I had a lot of fun with that group. The Sedins were great leaders, so we had a really great group. I know that first year there was probably the more exciting season for everybody when we made that good push and got into the playoffs,” Miller said.
“And then the next few seasons kind of got away from us.”
When Jim Benning made Miller his first free agent signing in 2014, the hope was that Miller would provide stable, quality goaltending for a regular playoff team. In season one he put together a 29-win season that helped Vancouver return to the postseason, but a late-season knee injury hampered Miller’s abilities in his two playoff starts against Calgary.
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“It’s a little bittersweet for me. Like I love that we made the playoffs, but I was coming off a knee injury,” Miller said about the Canucks’ opening-round exit. “It’s really disappointing to look back on because I felt like we had a veteran team, we had the experience to do some damage. And I just felt like I was not up to game speed, I wasn’t at a high level.”
The next two years were slightly less fruitful. But even as the Canucks fell into the NHL’s basement, Miller still has fond memories of his final pair of seasons in a Vancouver uniform.
“It was not the prettiest hockey, but I thought we competed as best we could and I took pride in going out every night, trying to compete and represent the city. I think that’s a great energy to bring onto the ice when you have a familiarity with the fans and the group of people that support your team.”
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Miller said he hopes to return to Vancouver again soon, particularly with his son Bodhi. Bodhi was born in Vancouver during Miller’s time with the Canucks, and holds dual citizenship between Canada and the US as a result.
“After things have settled down with COVID and whatnot, we’re hoping to spend some time, take Bodhi back and kind of refresh his memory on walking on the seawall, getting down to Granville Island, and doing the fun things we did with him as a toddler,” Miller said.
When Miller and his family do eventually make it back to Vancouver, another American-born goalie will be manning the Canucks’ net: San Diego’s own Thatcher Demko. While Miller and Demko spent just one training camp together, the 42-year-old East Lansing native has been paying attention and sees the makings of another elite US-born goaltender.
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“It’s been fun to watch him,” Miller said. “You can see the raw talent and I think he backs it up with his work ethic. You see him trying to fine-tune his game and that’s really what it takes to be world-class, that commitment to finding the things that are gonna set you apart.”
“There are so many great goaltenders right now, but it’s going to take that mental edge and that technical precision. So it’s fun to see how technical he can be, but it’s also fun when he gets a little old school within the net where he just says ‘okay, I’m not set up to make the technical save’, and he can pull out some athleticism. He’s arriving into his prime.”