In 2002, a 16-year-old goalie from the Boston hockey scene was in Ann Arbor, Mich., taking part in the United States National Team Development Program tryouts and also thinking about potential colleges.
Through a contact at Michigan State, Cory Schneider took an informal side trip to East Lansing and spent time on the campus. Naturally, the teenager found his way into Munn Ice Arena and came across the Spartans’ goalie, who had become the face of college hockey.
Thousands of miles might have separated the two, but Schneider – who was trying to put himself on the national radar as a talented young goalie – knew exactly who Ryan Miller was.
“I remember getting in there,” Schneider said. “Millsy was in the locker room. He had just come off the ice and skated or something like that. He was in the dressing room. I think it was his last year there.
“It was kind of a big deal. I remember, being a college hockey fan, how great he was that year and how dominant his season was (and) being able to meet him. He probably doesn’t even remember. He was 21 and I was a nobody. But it was really cool to meet him because (of) his reputation and what he’d done at Michigan State was just amazing.”
For the better part of two decades, Miller became the standard-bearer for American-born players who made goalie, the most critical position in the sport, their stage. From current stars like reigning Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck and John Gibson to promising newcomers such as Spencer Knight and Jake Oettinger, one can trace the excellence of American goalies back to Miller and how he ushered in a group of elite-level netminders the United States hadn’t produced since the days of John Vanbiesbrouck and Mike Richter.