Gutman: Medal hopes rest on Miller

About a month ago, most Americans probably couldn’t name one player on the U.S. Olympic hockey team. Many of the old-guard mainstays like Mike Modano became names of the past in favor of a new core of energetic, young players like David Backes and Ryan Kesler.

But after Team USA stunned the entire nation of Canada on Sunday night with a triumphant 5–3 victory in preliminary play at the 2010 Winter Olympics, there’s one phrase on the tip of every American sports fan’s tongue this week:

It’s Miller Time.

American goalie Ryan Miller might be the best kept secret in America, next to the recipe for Bush’s Baked Beans. Miller might be the best thing in Buffalo, N.Y., other than the Anchor Bar (home of the Buffalo Wing). He is the best hockey goalie on the planet and the only reason the U.S. has a shot at hockey gold in Vancouver.

The former Michigan State Spartan from East Lansing, Mich., is finally making a name for himself nationally. At 29, Miller is putting together a season that makes him not just a potential gold medalist but also a surefire frontrunner for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the best NHL goalie. Despite having an offense that is about as reliable as a 1970 Camaro, Miller has singlehandedly willed his Buffalo Sabres into fifth place in the Eastern Conference, solidly in playoff position.

He’s second in the NHL in both save percentage and goals against average. He’s consistent and spectacular rolled into one.

Ryan Miller in 2010 is everything Canadian goalie Martin Brodeur was expected to be. Brodeur has long been the backstop of one of the NHL’s stingiest teams, the New Jersey Devils. Brodeur was the hope of Team Canada, their leader on the path to gold. Brodeur was supposed to be the best goalie in the NHL. But Miller, quietly at first, encroached on Brodeur’s lofty perch and, as of Sunday, staked a claim to the title of best goalie in the world.

Ryan Miller in 2010 is also the fulfillment of a vision. Hockey fans might have predicted in 2006 that the USA would have the best goalie in the 2010 tournament but Miller was not on the radar. Rick DiPietro started in net for the 2006 USA hockey squad in Torino, posting a respectable 2.28 goals against average. In September of that year, the New York Islanders signed him to a whopping 15-year contract. Americans saw the future of their team: The U.S. could rebound from a terrible Torino effort and become a powerhouse by building in front of the rock in the net. But thanks to DiPietro’s series of injuries and Miller’s emergence, the American goaltending situation is as stable as many expected in 2006 — but with a different individual between the pipes.

So get yourself a six pack, get out your American flag shirts and get ready for Miller Time tonight. America’s medal hopes rest squarely on the shoulders of the Michigan man with Uncle Sam on his facemask. He may just be tied with Lady Gaga and The Situation for the most on-fire celebrity in America right now, but a couple more good games and a gold medal might vault him into Miley Cyrus territory.

Collin Gutman is a senior in Pierson College.

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