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It was 1987 in a Mite League game in San Jose, California ... hardly the setting where you would expect to find the story of a future NHL All-Star, especially since this was some four years before the San Jose Sharks came into existence.

But here was 8-year-old Ryan Miller, then a forward, trying to bribe his coach, Dean Miller, Ryan’s dad and a former player at Michigan State University. Ryan’s team was losing by a couple goals, when the kid threatened to go on strike.

"I told my dad I wanted to play in goal and I wouldn’t play another minute until I did," Miller told me recently, with a very serious look on his face. "Our goalie didn’t even know how to put his pads on the right way. It was pathetic.

"I was a forward who loved to go up the ice and score goals, but I just hated it when I was on the ice and we were scored on. And this kid playing goal for us was, well ..."

He was pathetic, right Ryan?

At that point, the 26-year-old from East Lansing, Michigan, who was chosen for his elite puck-stopping for the Buffalo Sabres by the fans to be the starting goaltender for the Eastern Conference at the All-Star Game in Dallas, had me hooked -- as well as his dad. I needed to know the rest of the story.

Ryan continued, "My dad said, ‘Get us a win and I’ll buy you a catching glove.’ So I went out there and helped us get three or four goals (Ryan had two goals and three assists in the game), we won the game and that’s when I stopped playing forward.

"I knew my dad didn’t want me to be a goalie, mostly because he didn’t understand the position. The stereotype for goalies in the era he played in was that goalies were weird, goalies couldn’t skate, goalies just weren’t very smart or athletic."

Here we had an 8-year-old holding a pre-emptive, one-man strike to get his way. I’d say that’s pretty smart and creative. Not anything like that old goalie stereotype, right?

Since that day, Ryan Miller has dazzled his dad and the rest of the world with his puck-stopping expertise. He won the Hobey Baker Award as the U.S. College Player of the Year in 2000-01 at Michigan State. He was the American Hockey League’s top goaltender in 2004-05 and now he’s working on the same kind of accolades in the NHL.

Following in the huge footsteps of all-world goaltender Dominik Hasek in Buffalo is daunting in itself. But Miller is making some forget "The Dominator".

"Ryan is ultra-competitive. He’s all about winning," Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier told me recently. "His work ethic, competitiveness, high expectations are just like Dom."

It’s no surprise, however, since Ryan Miller has hockey running through his blood. His grandfather, Butch, played defense for Michigan State, and his father, Dean, played forward for the Spartans. Butch's brother, Lyle, also played both forward and defense at Michigan. Lyle's three sons are Kelly, Kevin and Kip Miller, who all were standout forwards for the Spartans before moving on to the NHL. Ryan’s brother Drew is a forward prospect in the Anaheim Ducks organization.

"My interest in hockey comes from my family’s involvement," Ryan explained. "I was exposed to the game and always seemed to be at the rink at an early age and just fell in love with the game.



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