When young Bodhi Miller would ask where his daddy was, Ryan Miller too often would have to say — via FaceTime — that he was playing hockey for the Canucks and promise that they'd be together soon. But between Vancouver's schedule and the work commitments in Los Angeles of Miller's wife, actress Noureen DeWulf, Miller might not see Bodhi for three weeks at a time. That was an eternity for a little boy and a father who loved his sport and his family and didn't want to cheat either of them.
The timing couldn't have been better for Miller to become a free agent last summer, when the Ducks needed a backup goaltender who could support and push 24-year-old John Gibson. For two years at $2 million a year, the Ducks got a respected goalie whose professionalism enabled him to rise above the bad team that was around him the past few seasons. By leaving the rebuilding Canucks, Miller — who already had a home in L.A. — got a chance to play for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations and to spend more time with his wife and son. He won't have to press his face to the screen of a phone or tablet as frequently to say goodnight to Bodhi, now 2 1/2.
"That's a lot different than the life we were living just last year, which wasn't a bad life, but this is just a little bit of a step to have some balance, where my wife can do the things that she's always dreamed of doing and I'm doing the same thing," Miller said. "Playing in the NHL has always been important to me and I've always considered it a privilege, and to be able to blend that and be where we make our home is nice."
Miller, 37, enjoyed his best season in 2009-10, when he won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goalie with the Buffalo Sabres. In addition, he helped the United States reach the gold medal game at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where he stopped 36 shots but allowed Sidney Crosby's goal in sudden death to give Canada the gold.
Miller compiled a 2.80 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage last season for the Canucks, who missed the playoffs for the second straight season. He was subjected to 40 or more shots nine times, and he faced an average of 32.17 shots in 54 appearances. He's likely to face fewer shots thanks to the Ducks' tighter defensive play, but he still can draw on his Vancouver experiences.
"Mentally, you try not to go to a place where you're looking for excuses. It definitely ironed out a lot of things in my game, actually," he said. "I think that I can bring a mental approach almost similar to what I'd been telling myself prior to games, [which] was just being very simple and direct: I have a job and stop the puck, and there's no excuses about what's happening at any moment. And the kind of breakdowns you see in the NHL are going to happen on any team, and you have to be ready and prepared to handle that situation no matter where you're at.
"I think for me it was a lesson in humility and just being calm, patient and going out there to play a hockey game and not to have an expectation any which way. I always thought I could have an impact on the game if I put myself in the right mind-set, and that's something I actually hope to continue while I'm here."
Coach Randy Carlyle wouldn't say how many starts he will give Miller. Carlyle has some ideas for his goalie schedule but will let performance dictate his choices.
"We just feel that we're comfortable with the acquisition of Ryan Miller and where he's played and how he's played in the league and how much of a mentor or how much of a No. 1 goalie he can be for our group," Carlyle said.
Team captain Ryan Getzlaf said the Ducks are Gibson's team, but he thinks Miller can help Gibson carry that burden.
"The whole mentality is to push Gibby and make sure that Gibby has someone he can lean on, talk to," Getzlaf said. "Miller has been in this league for a long time and he's proven himself. Ultimately what it's about is having a goaltender in there every night that gives us a chance."
Miller began skating with his new teammates last week and was impressed with their drive and desire.
"You get the sense that they really feel like they're close to doing something special. They seem motivated," he said. He has a similar motivation to work alongside Gibson for the betterment of both goalies.
"It takes the whole team to accomplish something, and I'm going to be supportive and I hope that we have a friendship that could play out here," Miller said.
"We're just getting to know each other, but hopefully it turns into something where we genuinely feel good about pushing each other. But also, when the other guy does well, I want it to be genuine. I want him to have success because ultimately his success is going to be the team's success, and if I have success on the ice, the team is going to do well also."