This past summer, I was standing in the crease again at KeyBank Center. No ice, just cement all around. My son, Bodhi, was by my side. We were looking up together at the big screen — like I had done so many times as a Sabre — and Rick Jeanneret was up there, talking to me.
It was surreal to see him up there, to hear him speaking directly to me like that. I’d known Rick since I first got to Buffalo in 2002. He’s an icon and one of the great members of the Buffalo community. Hearing his voice, I remembered nights when I was injured and not in the lineup, and I’d head up to the play-by-play booth and just sit behind him. I couldn’t see the ice that well, but I didn’t need to. Rick painted the picture better than my eyes ever could. He is a huge part of the fabric of the Sabres organization.
So when he said that I’d be having my number 30 jersey put up into the rafters … it was hard not to be emotional. I remember whenever I was playing in net and there was a long TV timeout, I used to look up at the banners of all the greats — the guys who had given everything for Buffalo — Perreault, LaFontaine, Hasek. And to think that my name would be up there, too? It fills me with a lot of pride and appreciation for Buffalo.
Buffalo, for me, no matter where I live, will always be one of my homes.
– Ryan Miller
And I just wanted to thank you all before I see you this week.
You know, at the end of Rick’s kind and generous speech, he said something really simple that stuck with me.
If you play in the NHL as long as I did, you rent houses in a lot of different places. But there’s a difference between a house and a home. Buffalo, for me, no matter where I live, will always be one of my homes.
And that connection I have with the city, with the community — I won’t lie to you, it’s been hard to maintain. I had a long road after getting traded. I went to a few other places and started a life on the other side of the country. And then with the pandemic it’s been difficult to find time with my wife, Noureen, and our kids to get back east and really show them where I spent a huge part of my life. I missed Buffalo — more than I knew, really. Coming back this past summer, and then getting to come back again for the jersey retirement, it’s an opportunity to keep my family’s connection to the city strong. And that matters to me.
Because I remember the beginning, when I was just a skinny kid from Michigan trying to fill some big pads. I didn’t know much about the city, and I was staying out at the Marriott off Millersport Highway for most of the time, bouncing between Buffalo and Rochester. I think Aleš Kotalik was there, too. Just a couple of young guys trying to soak it all in and not have Lindy Ruff yell at us. I think, obviously, a lot of people saw his tough side, but really … when you got him away from the rink he’d ease up and have some fun with you. Everybody knew he was tough because he cared so much about the hockey club. He wanted to win every season. He wore what happened in ’99 on his sleeve. I felt it as a rookie and I felt it in his final season in Buffalo. It was infectious. He wasn’t like any coach I’d had before or since. He was there to win. Simple as that.
But I also think he understood how to get to that point. He knew that difficult seasons — like the ones we went through in my first few years there — were necessary. He knew that young players had to learn to win.
And to learn to win, man … you have to lose some.
I remember my first NHL game. I got called up in November of ’02, during an 0-9-2 slide. Things were not great to say the least. We were playing the Devils in New Jersey — one of the best teams in the league and the eventual Cup champs that year. And they had Martin Brodeur in net that night — one of my favorite players growing up. I remember following his career as a kid and thinking, Wow, I remember him as a teenager, and now he’s in the NHL?
To me, he made an NHL career seem possible in a way. So lining up against him in my first game is something I’ll never forget.
I do wish I could forget the third period of that game. I do.
We were up 2–0 heading into the third, and I remember thinking, Oh my God, I’ve got a shutout against Martin Brodeur! Against the Devils! In the NHL!
And then the next thing I remember is losing in overtime.
I learned to stay present a bit more after that.
As tough as some of those seasons were, we were building something.
The team and the city are one.
– Ryan Miller
We had some good young players, including Danny Brière, Chris Drury, Brian Campbell, Aleš — guys that would be a big part of our success coming out of the lockout. Lindy saw that, and he made the city of Buffalo see it, too. People wanted our core of players to succeed and they supported us during the lean times. I remember that. I think we all wanted to win for the community.
That’s what I think back to from those runs to the conference finals in ’06 and ’07.
The rink was packed every night during those playoffs and I just … I get goose bumps thinking back to it now. I still remember the noise inside the building, the faces of the fans when we’d score a big goal — I’m going to cherish those memories forever. I wish we had gotten over the line one of those years and won a Cup, but I believe that every guy in the room gave it everything he had. And I know Buffalo felt that. Because the fans gave everything, too. The support just in the city — when you’d see somebody at the grocery store and they’d tell you how much the Sabres meant to them and their kids … that was special. And it just felt like … I want to describe this correctly because there is something different about Buffalo. I’ve been fortunate enough to play in some great hockey cities with passionate fan bases. But a lot of big markets give you attention, you know? Coverage and talk shows and all that. But they don’t give you connection. Some markets feel distant. But in Buffalo — I just felt like we were all on the ice together, we were all in the stands together. We are all in it together.
And I think myself and the other players felt like that because that’s what the organization, what the Pegula family, wants. The team and the city are one.
I felt that my entire time as a Sabre. After the Olympics in 2010, when I was going through a tough time, there was a lot of support from everyone in Buffalo. There were so many kind messages from fans in and around the rink, and though it took me a bit of time — I feel really proud of that tournament and of winning a silver medal. And the city will always be part of those memories.
I can’t lie here, I need to save some stories for my speech, otherwise I’ll just spend 20 minutes crying in front of you guys. But before I got out there, I just wanted to say, Thank you, Buffalo.
Can’t wait to see you again.
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