Lately, it seems like all of the news being written about the Buffalo Sabres focuses solely on Ryan Miller. That is because Miller is making a case for winning the Vezina Trophy while playing on a losing team. Only one goalie in the history of the Vezina won the award while playing for a losing team, and that was Al Rollins of the Chicago Blackhawks in 1953-54.
Miller’s performance has caught the eye of the United States Olympic Committee and it could mean great things for him. Does any of this really matter to Sabres fans? Oh yes, it matters a great deal.
Miller was voted to the 2014 United States Olympic ice hockey team recently along with Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings and Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings. It is an interesting combination and one that just screams for Miller to be the top guy. Quick is just coming off a groin injury, and there is still plenty of time to go before he is ready to play at his normal level. Howard has a reputation for being wildly inconsistent.
Miller is the rock that the team can tie itself to and win a gold medal. For now, Miller is Buffalo’s rock.
What would it mean to Miller if he wins gold in Sochi? It would mean a lot more money and a lot more suitors who would want his services. What would it mean to Sabres fans? It would mean that once again, a Sabres goalie would win a gold medal.
Dominik Hasek was part of the gold medal-winning team for the Czech Republic in the 1998 Nagano games, and he was cheered just as loudly in his return to Buffalo as he was when he flashed his medal to the people of the Czech Republic. The statue of Hasek that resides over the entrance to the First Niagara Center in Buffalo was adorned with a gold medal for the rest of the 1997-98 season. Hasek was a hockey god in Buffalo, and he turned his back on the organization.
Now Miller has the chance to do the same thing. He has a chance to win a medal in Russia, bring it home and then turn his back on the Sabres organization. Perhaps the lingering spirit of Sabres great Taro Tsujimoto will inspire Miller to sign a long-term deal and become the cornerstone that Ted Nolan needs to build his Stanley Cup contender.
No matter what happens at the Sochi Olympics, Sabres fans know three things. First, Nolan was the Sabres’ coach when Hasek won the gold, and now Nolan has the chance to be the Sabres’ head coach when Miller wins the gold. Coincidence? Well, yeah it is, that just enhances the legend of Nolan in Buffalo.
Secondly, if Miller does win the gold, all eyes will be on Buffalo and the Sabres fans get to show the world what kind of party the city can throw when it has a reason to celebrate. Third, the Sabres would be the only NHL team in history to have two active roster goalies go to the Olympics and win gold medals.
There may not be a lot to cheer about in Buffalo right now, but Sabres fans still cheer anyway. If Miller wins the gold in Sochi, the world can expect to hear the little city on Lake Erie cheering louder than it has ever cheered before. It may not be the Stanley Cup, but it will make Buffalo the focal point of the entire United States for the rest of the winter. That is why Buffalo fans care so much about Team USA.