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Icer up for nations top award

January 24, 2001

In college football, the Heisman Trophy traditionally goes to the player who single-handedly makes his team great.

College hockey’s equivalent, the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, might wind up in East Lansing at season’s end if sophomore goaltender Ryan Miller keeps up his amazing play.

The East Lansing native is listed on USA Today’s 14-player Hobey Baker Watch and he is one of 40 players that advanced past the award’s first official cut-down earlier this month.

The award presentation will take place April 6 at the Frozen Four in Albany, N.Y.

“When they first mentioned the Hobey, I got really nervous,” Miller said. “But then I sat down and talked to my dad and talked to as many people as I could about it and I just kind of realized who cares? You know? There’s nothing you can do about it except go out there and play hockey and things will fall in place.

“It’s the furthest thing from my mind right now. I’m trying to put it in the back - far away. It’s not my focus,” he said.

Miller’s laundry list of qualifications for the award begins with a sparkling 1.18 goals against average and a .955 saves percentage, both easily the best in the country.

He has compiled an impressive 19-1-4 record this season and allowed two or fewer goals in 22 of his last 23 starts, all before Tuesday night’s game against Lake Superior State.

He is capable of making 40 saves a night and stealing wins for the top-ranked Spartans that they have no business getting.

He owns the school and league records for career shutouts and will tie the 70-year-old NCAA record of 16 with his next blanking.

And he is the best player on the best team in the country, a quality voters love.

“He has all the tools to be the best goalie I’ve ever had here,” said Ron Mason, MSU’s head coach of 22 years.

“He’s not there yet, but he’s on quite a hot streak right now.”

According to the Hobey Baker Web site, the award’s criteria includes “strength of character on and off the ice, contribution to the integrity of the team, outstanding skills in all phases of the game, scholastic achievement and sportsmanship.”

Hobey Baker history is not on Miller’s side, because only one goaltender has ever won the award - Minnesota’s Robb Stauber in 1988. Despite that, Miller thinks he can be the second netminder recipient.

“I feel I deserve it,” Miller said. “I’ve worked hard and it’s not easy being a goalie in an offensive-minded game. I’ve never had this much pressure to play great all the time. You’re expected to do something awesome every night.

“But it’s not life or death if I win (the award).”

Only one Spartan has ever won the Hobey Baker, and Miller shouldn’t have any problem getting advice from the recipient. Kip Miller, Ryan’s cousin, won the 1990 Hobey.

Kip Miller now plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL and was unavailable for comment.

The first two phases of Hobey Baker voting take fans’ ballots into consideration. Miller was the only Spartan to advance past the first phase. Fans can vote for Miller in the second phase of Hobey Baker fan balloting on www.USCHO.com or www.hobeybaker.com until March 15.

The fan balloting coupled with votes from the nation’s 60 Division I head coaches determines 10 finalists for the award, from which the 24-member Hobey Baker Selection Committee selects the winner.

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