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Passing over Miller makes no sense

Leaving Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller off the U.S. Olympic hockey team was a brilliant move. For Canada and Finland. For Russia and Sweden. For whomever meets up with the Americans in Italy.

Leaving Miller off the Olympic team was USA Hockey's holiday gift to the rest of the world. It was proof that selection's not about what you've done lately. It's about who you know, or payback for past service, anything but the statistics that really tell the story.

There's no credible defense for omitting Miller from the American squad. That's why Olympic team General Manager Don Waddell, who's also GM of the Atlanta Thrashers, stumbled over his explanation while trying to rationalize three goaltenders but no Miller during last week's USA Hockey conference call.

Granted, Miller missed six weeks when a broken thumb rendered him idle as the process neared its culmination. How does that become grounds for casting him aside? It can't be the rust factor. Miller won a franchise-record 41 games for the Rochester Americans last season while the three goaltenders named to Team USA were virtually idle. He's played more hockey than any of them over the last year and a half.

His healed thumb shouldn't have been a mitigating concern since there are provisions to replace an injured player. If Miller had a setback then the spot could have gone to the netminder next in line.

Does America leave the hottest golfer off its Ryder Cup team? Then how does it leave Miller off its Olympic squad? He went into Monday night's 6-3 victory over the New York Islanders ranked ninth in the league in goals-against average. None of USA Hockey's three goaltenders -- Rick DiPietro of the Islanders, John Grahame of Tampa Bay and Robert Esche of Philadelphia -- is better than 20th. Miller's save percentage was good for sixth in the league. None of the anointed three is better than 29th.

It gets more ridiculous. Miller beat DiPietro in the season-opener. He's beaten Grahame twice, most recently on Friday -- four days after the team was announced. He's 3-0 since returning from his injury, with all of those wins coming against the teams that placed netminders on the U.S. squad. Will someone please make a motion to reconsider?

"He's a very focused guy and mentally strong so I don't think it's going to get him down at all," said American-born teammate Paul Gaustad. "I think the way he responded was great."

It doesn't make any sense. Grahame's the most curious choice of the three. He never figures to see the crease in Turin while Miller could have contended for playing time, risen to the top, created the kind of competition that might have elevated the play of the other two.

"There's a lot of different angles and a lot of different things you can talk about but it comes down to the made decision and they're going to go with it and I'm going to live with it and I'm going to be fine with it," Miller said. "This grudge match thing, I think this is getting blown out of proportion already. I always like to win no matter who I'm playing against. It's not a soap opera. We're all Americans. I'm really proud of the American goalies."

Miller's snub could be of great benefit to the Sabres over the remainder of the season. He's a proud athlete. His diplomacy aside, you know darn well he feels he belonged on the U.S. team. No doubt in the back of his mind he'll be out to show that leaving him behind was a mistake.

"Before (the injury) he was playing well enough to make it and afterward he was playing well enough to make it," Gaustad said. "I don't know what their decision was based on but he's a great goaltender and in the future I think he'll be there for sure."

Doubtless his time will come. Just four years later than he deserved.

e-mail: bdicesare@buffnews.com

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