Sept. 12, 2013
Michigan State will induct five new members into its Athletics Hall of Fame on Thursday, Sept. 12. In the fifth of a five-part series this week on msuspartans.com, online columnist Steve Grinczel profiles former hockey All-American Ryan Miller.
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist
Michigan State hockey can't be categorized as a collection of memories for Ryan Miller. It can't even be categorized as a life-changing experience.
It's fair to say, it's an integral part of his very being.
"I've been going to Munn Arena since before I have real memories," the 2001 Hobey Baker Award winner and two-time All-American said. "For me, Michigan State has been a big part of my life ever since I was a very, very young person. Almost from my first days or weeks of my life I'm sure I had green and white on and was at the rink.
"It's nice to have had that kind of career at Michigan State, but I would have been honestly happy to just have a chance to go there (as a student). To have it be such a fun time, when we were able to win hockey games and meeting a great group of guys who I'm close with to this day, ended up defining the direction my life was going to take."
Miller's induction into the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame, therefore, is another layer of immortality for the first family of Spartan hockey and him.
His grandfather, Elwood, and father, Dean, played hockey for Michigan State, as did cousins Kelly, Kevin and Kip, his uncle Lyle and brother, Drew. Ryan is being joined in the incoming Hall of Fame class by Kip, who won the Hobey Baker Award in 1990.
"Coming from a family that had so much going on with Michigan State, and with my cousins playing there at a time when I was young and impressionable, impacted me a lot," Miller said. "I'm very proud and very appreciative of what I was able to take away from Michigan State. It gave me an opportunity to advance myself as a player and as a person, and to also leave a mark."
And what a mark it was, though it lasted just three years before Miller left early to join the NHL Buffalo Sabres, who picked him in the 1999 draft.
"Looking back at the three years I spent at Michigan State, and how quickly my 12 years in pro hockey have gone by, my freshman year was about 15 years ago," said Miller, who is embarking on his 12th season in Buffalo. "It's pretty amazing how things go so quickly, but it has me reflecting a little bit more on everything now.
"I feel fortunate for what I've been able to take from hockey, and what's helped me get to the level I've been able to play at for the last 12 years. Obviously, Michigan State is a big part of that. To be recognized as someone who had a positive impact on the sports side of things feels good."
Miller staked his claim to a hallowed place in Spartan athletic history almost from the time he first set a blade on the Munn ice as a freshman in 1999-2000. The way he played not only convinced legendary coach Ron Mason that he should be splitting time with returning first-team All-American goalie Joe Blackburn during the regular season, it earned him the starting job throughout the Central Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs. He was the first CCHA goalie to record back-to-back shutouts in semifinal and championship games.
Fears of Miller going through a sophomore slump were quickly dashed as he went on to set an NCAA record for goals against average (1.32) and save percentage (.950). He compiled a 31-5-4 record in 40 starts and was named CCHA Player of the Year, USA College Hockey Player of the Year, The Hockey News College Player of the Year and first-team All-America.
In addition to leading the Spartans to the 2001 Frozen Four, Miller became the second member of his family, and second goalie to win college hockey's top honor, the Hobey Baker Award.
Miller came close to pulling off the near-impossible feat of duplicating those accomplishments when as a junior he compiled a 26-9-5 record, posted a 1.77 GAA and a .900 save percentage, earned CCHA top goalie and player-of-the-year honors, was a first-team All-American and a Hobey Baker finalist.
He left MSU with one CCHA regular season championship, two CCHA Tournament titles and three NCAA Tournament appearances. His journey also includes a trip to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, where he led the U.S. national team to the gold-medal game against eventual winner Canada and came away with Most Valuable Player accolades.
Asking Miller to single out the most influential person in his hockey life is like having him recite the details of every save he made as a Spartan.
"That'd be a little unfair to the number of people who helped shape me as a person and the player I was while I was there and wouldn't be able to mention," he said. "But, I'm going to try to make a list. Everyone associated with the hockey program and the scholastic student-athlete program were great assets, and not just while I was at Michigan State.
"It continues to this day as friends of mine who have been a nice part of my life. They've been some good quality people I could call on when I needed some help. Or, when I was approaching a point in my life where I hadn't been in a situation yet, I had plenty of people who cared enough to give good advice."
In addition to everyone in his family and Mason, Miller acknowledged there's a warm spot in his heart for: MSU assistant coach Tom Newton, Spartans associate head athletic trainer Dave Carrier ("He was great for giving advice..."), equipment manager Tom Magee ("He was fun to talk to..."), director of student-athlete development Angela Montie ("Remains a good friend..."), team doctor Jennifer Gilmore ("She has been a great resource for me...") and strength-and-conditioning coach Ken Mannie ("Who always welcomes me back with open arms and helped push me to get better...").
With Miller's place in MSU history secure, some of his ex-teammates have called to extend their best wishes.
"Some of the former Michigan State guys have reached out and said congratulations," Miller said. "They also just wanted to remind me that they spent a lot of hard work making me look good.
"But it's nice to hear from the guys. They know how much this means to me and my family. They're happy for us."