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Olympics BUZZ

Ryan Miller

Miller, Ruff at center of attention as Games approach

The upcoming Winter Olympics are garnering much attention, especially in the hockey world, even more so in Canada, where Vancouver will serve as the host city.

The Buffalo Sabres have especially been the focus of a lot of the buzz. Coach Lindy Ruff will serve on the coaching staff for Team Canada, while Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller is expected to be the starting goaltender and do most of the heavy lifting in net for Team USA.

Last week in Vancouver, the Canadian media tried to get a feel for the emotions of the day as the team was preparing to face the Vancouver Canucks that evening. But this was no ordinary morning skate. All over there was a sense that folks here were about to witness an Olympics preview, what with Miller squaring off against Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo, a member of Team Canada.

“I think you’re getting it from all areas,” said Coach Lindy Ruff while talking to the media in Vancouver. “I am told, ‘34 million people are counting on you guys.’ Give or take a million or so.”

Ruff tried very hard to be analytical about the field of goalies appearing this year’s games, recognizing that his potential MVP will be the opposition when they soon appear on this same sheet of ice. “His numbers prove he is at the top of his game,” said Ruff of Miller. “You look at it the Finns, the Russians, the Swedes—you’ve got a lot of good goaltenders. I think Ryan has stepped up to put him in that elite category.”

So where would Miller fall on Canada’s depth chart if he were a Canadian citizen? “He’d rank right in the top four with us,” replied Ruff to a chorus of laughter, obviously trying hard not to diss his top three goalies—Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Miller has fielded plenty of questions about the Olympics—the previews, the matchups, the opponents. In fact, it has become such a strain that the Sabres PR staff has sent out an edict that Miller will take no more questions about the Olympics on game days.

Nonetheless, Miller tried to say little as he prepared to square off against Luongo and the Canucks. “As far as USA-Canada it depends on who gets to start, but we’ll see who is in net in a few weeks. I know there is a lot of buzz around here [about the Olympics], but we’re trying to just enjoy ourselves at the end of a long road trip, take in some of the sights, and just kick back and have some fun.”

Yet the questions kept coming. “You have to play well for your club to have a chance at the Olympics. You grind out the season, play your last game, and then catch a flight to play at a tournament. For me to say I’m on an Olympic schedule, all I can say is I am playing for the Sabres, which means get my rest, do my preparation, and that will be my training period for the Olympics.”

Miller would make no bold “guaranteed win” prognostications when asked Team USA’s chances. “I think we’ll perform well when it comes down to playing the system, and see how that ranks up against some of the top teams in the world. I’m not a handicapper and I’ll leave that up to you guys.”

With all the spotlight on the Americans and the Canadians, the forgotten Olympian here in Buffalo is defenseman Andrej Sekera, who will be a part of Team Slovakia in the 2010 Games.

Slovakia burst onto the international stage in a big way in 2006 at Turin, and this year will be headlined by All Stars such as Marian Gaborik, Zdeno Chara, and Marian Hossa. “The Olympics will be amazing, will be something special to experience. I have never been there but I have heard plenty of stories about them and I am sure I will enjoy every single day there,” said Sekera.

Sekera has a special sense of pride representing his country as one of an exclusive group of men to carry his flag. “The Olympics are one of the biggest tournaments of the world and the best players in the world are there competing against each other,” he said. “You have a big pride and you have the country’s crest on your chest. Yes, it will be special.

“The people in Canada are such huge hockey fans,” Sekera added. “I can’t even imagine how exciting it is going to be.”

One thing is for certain: There will be plenty of drama and side stories in this year’s Olympics men’s hockey to keep everyone riveted, and many of these tales will certainly involve our men from right here in Buffalo.

Taro Sez (Bandits edition)…

• Will John Tavares ever suit up again in a Bandits uniform? Team officials are now saying “three more weeks,” but Tavares has forlornly admitted that at his age, injuries are slow to heal and that he is literally unable to run up and down the field.

• Meanwhile, watch the name Kyle Clancy, 2009 first round draft pick activated this past week. Clancy score a shorthanded goal in the win over Minnesota and could emerge as a new star and fan favorite.

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