I have to admit, my mind has been a bit all over the place this week. I've had a week from hell and haven't exactly been thrilled with looking in the mirror lately. I'm just a moody person who has good weeks and some bad weeks and this week definitely falls into the latter. I'm an emotional guy and as much as I try to be cordial or proper, it never lasts. I lack a filter and that's not in a "I'm so cool, I can say what I want!" kind of way. It's being irrational and impulsive.
At times, sports help us get away from our problems or mistakes. Sometimes as we watch, they put us in good moods or in even worse moods than before you started watching. Still, as we watch, we tend to forget our own bullshit through the everyday walks of life. I've been someone who gravitates towards athletes who come across as real human beings. I don't exactly care what you have to say if you are nothing more than a cliche machine or a PR handbook.
I think that's why I've always liked Ryan Miller. He was always genuine and never tried to cover up his feelings.
We saw the guy grow up from a rookie to a husband to an elite goalie, which means we've seen so many different faces of his. He was either pissed off or a pleasure to deal with. He was the best goalie on the planet or someone you doubted because of his high GAA. He yelled at Sully or he yelled about his teammates playing scared. But I think what really set him apart was how he always gave thoughtful answers and how those answers sometimes came with an edge.
Miller was a different cat whose mood swung in different directions like the Lake Erie winds. What I'll always remember about Miller is the two years after the lockout. Those two years truly made hockey in Buffalo and while guys like Drury/Briere were the stars, Miller was the baby of the group. As he grew up, so did we as fan base. If you are a teenager, he's probably my version of what Jim Kelly or Thurman Thomas were when I was growing up with the Bills and seeing them goto the Super Bowl yearly it seemed like. Everything seemed perfect during the Olympic year when Miller played out of his mind and America saw what we were lucky to see almost every night.
But it wasn't always sunshine and rainbows with him. I remember a few years back when Miller was going through a bad stretch. I wrote how I felt Buffalo was suffocating him. The dynamic during that time suggested that both Buffalo and Ryan loved the other but didn't feel the same love in return. It was the whole "He's a star player dating an actress in Hollywood" vs. Miller having to repeat 200x why he loved Buffalo.
We wanted too much of his heart, too much of his soul, and too many reassurances. How many times did the guy have to say he would "Fall on that Sabre sword" before asking for a trade? It was always very up and down relationship where I think both parties had insecurities and needed to be reminded that the only love they knew was of each other.
However, in a bittersweet way, I kind of felt this season was a perfect way to end it for Miller and Buffalo. At times, I probably took Miller for granted and was spoiled by his play. I felt after his Olympic year he struggled and I placed a lot of blame on him without acknowledging how crappy the defense was that season. I was wrong and this season has proved it.
When you get old in life things get taken from you. That's part of life and can be a part of sports. Players get old and so do family members. People come and people go. But you only begin to understand that after you start losing stuff. You learn that you have to rise above it and be strong when the things you can't control affect your life or career.
Miller saw all his comrades from the glory days of 2005/2007 leave, but his true character was revealed when he didn't bitch about being here. He didn't beg to leave because Steve Ott was our #1 center or because our old GM was a fucken idiot. He was the best player on the Sabres this season. It was his swan song and while it wasn't magical or Michael Jordan hitting the gamewinning shot, I came to realize how shiny this diamond was when he was surrounded by dog shit.
What makes Miller one of the best was that he crossed so many demographics. So many kids idolized him and I can't even imagine how they are handling their idol leaving. Then there are the post-lockout fans. He's been there every step of the way in their hockey experience. Then there are the old-timers who have watched hockey for 30 years and can say he was the 2nd best goalie in team history and who enjoyed his work ethic.
Then there's me. I enjoyed Ryan's play, but I might have enjoyed his openness when it came to his storytelling even more. There was never a filter with his words and we felt his pain and happiness like no other Sabres player I can think of.
At times he didn't have the peace that I had hoped he wanted when the team sucked, but I can't get that peace in life either when things beyond my control start fucking up. However, I think when he looks back, he can hold his head high and know that he left his mark on Buffalo. There may be another great goalie who comes through within the next five years, but there will never be another person like Ryan Miller.