Miller key to U.S. win
By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency
American goaltender Ryan Miller could be the wild card against Team Canada in the gold-medal game at the Vancouver Olympics. (ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY)
VANCOUVER — United States goalie Ryan Miller grew up in Canada’s hockey shadow.
He’s been a border guy most of his life.
He was raised in East Lansing, Mich., not too far from Detroit and Windsor.
He played junior in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., separated by a river from its Ontario twin, and his puck-stopping profession landed him in Buffalo, right across the way from Fort Erie, Ont.
He knows what the game means this side of Customs. He knows what it means if he denies Canada the gold medal Sunday afternoon at GM Place. He realizes he’s the enemy and potential party pooper.
“We’d be 11, 12 years old going across the border all the time to tournaments,” Miller said. “And there’d be all these Canadian parents in the stands yelling at us.
“I don’t think I have a deeper understanding than anybody else. All the guys know what the game means here.
“It’s Canadian cultural identity.”
Coming to Vancouver, Miller knew he had the chance to go the distance for the gold.
The guy at the other end of the ice — Team Canada’s Roberto Luongo — didn’t.
But Miller played a big part in giving the Canucks goalie, who calls this crease, rink and city home, a shot at the biggest game of his life.
Luongo grew up in the shadow of Martin Brodeur in Montreal. He started the Olympics the same way, but is in because Miller outplayed Brodeur last week.
“I don’t feel like it’s an elimination game (in the Stanley Cup playoffs),” Luongo said. “I feel different. You have to take it all in. You may never get to go through this again. You’ve worked hard your whole life for this.
“I didn’t come in with any expectations and I think it was the right approach.
“I’ve played for Canada before where I was the back-up and had to come in because of injuries. This is nothing new.”
The first matchup changed two ways of thinking.
“I think it was a pivotal game for both teams,” Miller said.
The Americans, fashioned underdogs here despite a considerable wealth of NHL star power, started to believe they could pull this off.
Canada coach Mike Babcock made his move in net.
“Lou’s got to be good,” Babcock said. “He knows that. We all have these opportunities in our career to make a name for ourselves. Some people might think that’s pressure, I think it’s the opposite.
“He’s a great big man (six-foot-three, 217 pounds). This is his home building. He’s got to love when they chant ‘Lou-uuu.’.
Miller is six-foot-two, but scrawny — much less than the 175 pounds he’s listed.
“I’m never going to be a big guy,” Miller said.
But Sunday, one of these goalies will emerge from their shadows and be bigger than they ever dreamed.