Ryan and his MSU teammates entered the 01-02 season as the top-ranked team in both the CCHA and NCAA. Holding onto the top position in the NCAA has proven difficult (12-3-2 overall, 6th in the USA Today/American Hockey Magazine poll), but the Spartans 10-3-1 conference record has them in first place in the CCHA.
While there is no question that MSU’s current standing is a direct result of both solid defensive play and good coaching, having a certain award-winning goaltender makes things that much easier for the Spartans. Miller is not without his detractors, however, as there are some observers who are of the opinion that Ryan benefits more from MSU’s strong defense than do the Spartans from Miller’s solid goaltending. Perhaps this case can be made, but the statistics don’t necessarily back up these claims.
After 17 games, Ryan leads the CCHA in goals-against average (1.55), save percentage (.944), and wins (12). His 6 shutouts are tops in the NCAA, while he continues to add to his NCAA-record career total, which stands at 24 shutouts. Miller is ranked 3rd in the nation amongst Division I goalies, but the two players in front of Ryan have appeared in just 8 and 4 games, respectively.
Perhaps the best indicator of Ryan’s importance to his team is the number of shots he faces per game. Miller has faced an average of 27.2 shots per game so far this season, which would put MSU in the middle of the pack in the CCHA for that category. While there are goaltenders on some lesser teams that face more rubber-per-game than Ryan, he is still putting up excellent numbers in spite of having to face a solid attack from opponents. The fact that Ryan was able to stop a 41-shot barrage in his most recent shutout shows that he is quite capable of winning games by himself.
Ryan, a ’99 5th round choice of the Buffalo Sabres, has already collected several honors in his career, most notably the 2001 Hobey Baker Award, which is given to college hockey’s best player. So far this season, Ryan has been named the CCHA Defensive Player of the Week for the week ending November 18th. While there will no doubt be more trophies to come, Ryan’s main goal this season will almost certainly be to lead MSU to the NCAA Championship. Given what he has accomplished so far, it is not a stretch to think that Miller could very well achieve this final goal, which would cap off what could be the final year of his college career.
Buffalo’s other college prospect, LW Mike Pandolfo, is off to a decent start in the 2001-02 season. Pandolfo, a ’98 3rd round draft choice for the Sabres, is in his senior year at Boston University, where he is a co-captain for the 01-02 Terriers.
Mike is currently on a pace to post the best offensive numbers of his college career. Through 14 games, he has 14 points (9G, 5A) to go along with 10 penalty minutes (all minor infractions) and a +1 rating. Pandolfo plays on the Terrier’s power play unit, with 4 of his 9 markers being power play goals. Two of Mike’s goals have been game-winners, which ties him with two other players for the team lead in that category.
BU is currently ranked 7th in the nation by both polling services, while they currently stand 3rd in Hockey East with a 10-3-1 record overall. The Terriers have had an up-and-down performance during Pandolfo’s college career, so this season may be Mike’s best chance at a national championship.
Mike is still considered a decent prospect by Sabres’ management, mostly due to the fact that he has size and speed as his main attributes. While he’ll probably never be a major offensive threat, he could be effective on the power play as a large body wreaking havoc in front of the opponent’s net.