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Column: The circle of hockey life: Ryan Miller retires as Quinton Byfield embarks on career

Ducks goalie Ryan Miller looks on during a game.
The Ducks’ Ryan Miller, shown in 2020, will retire at the end of the season, concluding an 18-year career as the winningest American-born goaltender in NHL history.
(Jeffrey T. Barnes / Associated Press)

One standout NHL career is coming to an end just as another career, brimming with the promise of great feats to come, is beginning to blossom.

This season is all but over for the Ducks, who are out of playoff contention, and for the Kings, whose chances are fading fast. But the cycle of hockey life will continue this weekend, when Ducks goaltender Ryan Miller savors his final days before retirement and Kings forward Quinton Byfield tries to build on his solid NHL debut and become the centerpiece of his team’s unsteady climb back toward Stanley Cup contention.

Miller, 40, said Thursday that this season, his 18th in the NHL, will be his last. He’s likely to start on Saturday against the Kings at Honda Center, the finale of the teams’ four straight games against each other. “I’d like to compete to the very end,” he said, and he deserves a chance to go out on his terms.

The East Lansing, Mich., native is the NHL career leader in wins by American-born goalies with 390, which ranks 14th among those who have played that perilous position. He’s the only goalie in hockey history to have been declared the best at his job in the college ranks, the American Hockey League, the NHL, and in the Olympics.

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Ducks goaltender Ryan Miller will announce his retirement Thursday, effective at the end of the season.

Miller was spectacular in Team USA’s silver-medal performance at the 2010 Vancouver Games and played on the fourth-place team at Sochi, Russia, in 2014. “That’s always a source of pride for me,” he said of representing the U.S. at the world championships and Olympics.

He was born into a hockey family: 10 of his relatives played the sport at Michigan State and his brother Drew and cousin Kip preceded him in Anaheim. Ryan loved hockey as far back as he can remember. He enjoyed playing it, thinking about it, and anticipating getting out there again. His career vision was clear from the start, though his father, Dean, didn’t always share it.

“I was really drawn to goaltender as a position,” Miller said during an emotion-filled webinar Thursday that included tributes from past and present teammates and coaches. “I think being discouraged in the slightest way possible from time to time by my dad because he knew how difficult it could be to stand there, I just felt like that was the spot for me. And it ended up being exactly where I wanted to be, and I’m lucky I got to do it for so long.”

He made his NHL debut on Nov. 19, 2002. He played on some very good teams in Buffalo and was awarded the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie for his dominant 2009-10 season but the Sabres never came close to winning the Cup. It wasn’t due to a lack of effort or caring from Miller, who established a charitable foundation in Buffalo he still actively supports.

“Buffalo is always going to have a big part of my heart. I feel like I really grew up there,” said Miller, who played in St. Louis and Vancouver before signing with the Ducks as a free agent in 2017. “I always felt like I kind of owed something to Buffalo, in a way. I always wanted to do right by the fans.”

Quinton Byfield skates.
Quinton Byfield skates during the second period of an OHL game on Oct. 4, 2018 in St. Catharines, Canada.
(Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images)

He’s now looking forward to shedding the quirks of being an NHL goalie. “I owe my wife quite a few nights out where we should have been out on a date but I was having to prepare for a hockey game the next day or two days,” he said. He plans to stay in Southern California with his son Bodhi and wife, actress Noureen DeWulf. He wants to stay involved in hockey, maybe in management or player development, but he hasn’t worked out the details.

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“I will see you around the rinks,” he said. “I just will not be in the crease.”

As Miller departs, the heralded Byfield is arriving, carrying the hopes of Kings fans who have become disgruntled with the plodding pace of the team’s rebuild.

General manager Rob Blake can’t afford to be wrong about Byfield, the No. 2 pick in the 2020 draft. Giving the 18-year-old forward a chance to experience the speed and physicality of the NHL should help him next season, when nothing less than a playoff berth will be acceptable. Too little scoring and too much disarray on defense doomed the Kings this season, problems Blake can solve with wise use of the salary cap space he has created. He can’t afford to be wrong there, either.

Byfield was impressive in his debut Wednesday, playing nearly 18 minutes and getting turns on the power play and penalty killing units. He had four shots on goal, won eight of 12 faceoffs, and had a good scoring chance in the late seconds of the Kings’ 3-2 loss to the Ducks.

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Quinton Byfield, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 draft by the Kings, is set to make his NHL debut Wednesday night against the Ducks.

“He was probably one of our better players,” coach Todd McLellan said. “A pretty complete night for a real young man and hopefully we can grow that as we move forward.”

Byfield made some crisp, smart passes even though the pace gave him little time to make decisions. “You’re playing against the best players in the world and I’ve got to get up to speed with that and make some more plays,” he said. “You find here you’ve got to bury your chances or you don’t get the outcome that you want.”

He didn’t look out of place. More important, he didn’t feel out of place. “I look forward to the next and just on improving,” he said. “It was just the first of many games of my career, hopefully. There’s a lot to take away but I definitely feel like I belong here.”

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As Byfield’s career takes off Miller’s will wind down, producing a brief and intriguing intersection of their NHL paths.


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