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Miller has a soft spot in Buffalo’s heart

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Every weekday morning at around 7:50am on WGR 550 AM, the morning crew plays back the “WGR Whiner Line”. The Whiner Line is a place for Buffalo sports fans to vent about their problems and complain about the Buffalo teams.

Ryan Miller was often the topic of many callers’ complaints. When Miller had a bad night or gave up a goal that cost the Sabres a win, fans criticized him, often calling him “Mr. Softie”.

After the news broke that Miller had been traded on Friday, many Buffalo fans opened their hearts and gave him their appreciation for the years he spent as a member of the Buffalo Sabres organization.

Shortly before the Sabres’ matchup with the San Jose Sharks, Miller and teammate Steve Ott were traded to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for goaltender Jaroslav Halak, forward Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier, a 1st round pick in 2015, and a conditional 3rd round draft pick in 2016.

Miller was brought to tears during his press conference following the first period of Friday’s game. In front of the media, he addressed his gratitude to the community and organization.

“I’m just thankful to everybody in Buffalo. Friends, fans, the organization top down, managers over the years that believed in me, Terry and Kim [Pegula] for coming in and doing a nice job continuing the tradition of this being a great organization,” Miller said. “It’s very emotional right now. It’s hard to think it’s been 12 years with this organization. I am very excited for an opportunity to have a new adventure. I have a strong sense that they have a very special team. … They have a very strong competitive spirit, so I look forward to joining that group there.”

The general feeling around Buffalo is similar to how people felt when Lindy Ruff was fired as head coach of the Sabres: Wow, is this really happening?

Miller has been the face of the franchise ever since the 2006-07 season, and has been a staple in the Buffalo community since his arrival in the NHL in the 2002-2003 season. Even though his departure was inevitable, Miller is gone and it has him and his community hard.

“I’ve basically grown up here. Over a third of my life has been [in] Upstate New York,” Miller said. “You can really say this is where I grew up and this is where I’ve had a lot of moments in my life. I’m obviously forever going to be tied to this part of the world, and I hope to continue that relationship as best as I can moving forward.”

Miller made his National Hockey League debut on November 19, 2002 in a game against the New Jersey Devils. Miller lost his debut in overtime, but got his first NHL victory two nights later against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Miller played back and forth between the Sabres and the Rochester Americans in the AHL until the 2005-06 season when he led the Sabres into a deep postseason run. Miller was superb in the series against the Ottawa Senators, and nearly led the Sabres to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance over the Carolina Hurricanes.

The next season, Miller led the Sabres to a Presidents’ Trophy season, and to another Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Even with, arguably, the best Sabres team in recent memory, the Sabres fell apart and lost the series in five games to Ottawa.

Miller and the Sabres had a couple years of missing the playoffs between 2007-08 and 2008-09.

In 2009-10, Miller had his best season to date. In 69 games played, Miller won 41 games, had a career best 2.22 goals-against-average, and a career high .929 save-miller1percentage. His performance throughout the season led the Sabres to the playoffs, and earned Miller his first Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender.

Miller also lead Team USA on a surprise run at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics to eventually fall short and win a silver medal.

Since then, Miller has passed Dominik Hasek as the Sabres’ most winningest goaltender in franchise history, on February 4, 2012 to be exact. Miller also surpassed Hasek for the most games played as a Sabres goaltender. Miller only led Buffalo to one more playoff appearance before the team took a turn for the worse.

In a season where the Sabres were poised to be bad, Miller was possibly having one of the best statistical seasonsin his career. Miller kept the Sabres in games, where they could have lost by five or more goals, and was one of the leaders in the locker room.

In 40 games played in the 2013-14 season, Miller went 15-22-3 with a 2.72 goals-against-average and a .923 save-percentage.

Miller’s final game with the Sabres on Tuesday night, right after he returned from the 2014 Winter Olympic games in Sochi, Russia. Miller played very well making 36 saves to help the Sabres beat the Hurricanes 3-2.

Even knowing that Miller was bound to be traded by general manager Time Murray, Sabres interim head coach Ted Nolan had nothing but praise for Miller following the Sabres win on Tuesday night.

“It just shows what kind of goaltender we have in Ryan Miller, and how important goaltending is,” Nolan said. “I don’t think we had too much reason to say we were a better team tonight outside of Ryan Miller stealing that game for us.”

Miller finishes his career in Buffalo with 540 games played, which is 16th in NHL history for a goaltender to play with one team. Miller finishes with a 284-186-57 record as a Sabre, finishes with a 2.60 career goal-against-average, and a career .916 save-percentage.

Outside of the game, Miller has had a huge involvement in the Buffalo community. He founded the Steadfast Foundation with his father Dean Miller to support families who have people suffering cancer. Miller was also involved in going to hospitals around Western New York to visit kids and take part in team events. His Catwalk For Charity event has always been a popular event in Buffalo, in which all the Sabres players voluntarily took part of every year. The money raised in the event goes to the families supported through the Steadfast Foundation.

The Ryan Miller era in Buffalo may be over, but the memories will last a lifetime. Whether it was a save that he made, or a performance that he had, or whether you met him at an event and got a picture and autograph, Miller will always be remembered by the great people of Buffalo. When Miller returns to Buffalo, whenever that may be, he deserves nothing more than a standing ovation and respect for what he has for hockey and the community in the city of Buffalo.

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