By Frank Pingue
SOCHI, Russia, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Ryan Miller was the face of U.S. ice hockey during a magical run at the 2010 Vancouver Games but the goaltender had to rediscover his form to earn a spot on the Sochi Olympics squad.
Miller earned Most Valuable Player honors in Vancouver after making 139 saves on 147 shots through six games, including a crushing overtime loss to Canada in the gold medal game.
But Miller is well aware the 2010 MVP award will mean little to his coaches when it comes to determining who will get the starting job in goal.
"It's kind of like law firms: it doesn't guarantee any future payouts or verdicts or anything like that," said Miller, who is expected to arrive in Sochi on Monday.
"It's an experience that I will always cherish. But I can't stack it in the net behind me. It's not going to deflect pucks away."
Selected as one of three goalies along with Los Angeles Kings counterpart Jonathan Quick and Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings, Miller is still awaiting word on who will be the starter in goal for the United States.
As recently as a few months ago, many observers wondered if Miller still had what it takes to lead the U.S. team and that chatter did not sit well with the 33-year-old goalie.
"I think I was on the outside looking in," said Miller. "The way people were talking, yeah, it did kind of sting. I think it was more a testament to the way USA goaltending has developed the last few years.
"It's great for U.S. hockey, but at the same time, you don't want to be pushed out of the equation."
As he did in the lead-up to the 2010 Games, Miller turned it up a few notches and has been enjoying some of the best ice hockey of his career despite playing for the National Hockey League's last-place Buffalo Sabres.
Miller has made a solid case for the job as he is sporting a better save percentage than Quick and Howard despite facing more shots than nearly every other NHL goalie this season.
Quick has also shown that he is deserving of the role having risen to the occasion in two pressure-packed NHL postseasons. He led Los Angeles to a Stanley Cup in 2012 and to the penultimate round of the NHL playoffs a year later.
But a groin injury and sub par start to the current NHL season for Quick, 28, left the starting role up for grabs and it seems the United States are in no hurry to offer any hints.
"That's not a question I'm ready to answer for right now," Team USA head coach Dan Bylsma said late last month when asked which goalie would get the starting job. "Whether I know it or not, you're not going to find out today."
Miller has every intention of gaining the starting role and has already unveiled a Russian-inspired goalie mask that he will wear in Sochi.
The colorful mask includes stars and stripes, the red white and blue colors of the American flag, a bald eagle, a ripped Uncle Sam and Russian nesting dolls of Miller, his wife and their dog.
Canada's Sidney Crosby sent a puck between Miller's legs to clinch the gold medal in Vancouver and the goalie does not hide the fact the sting of the defeat will drive him in on Sochi.
"You have to lose a game to get silver. You're a breath away from gold. It can be a hard award," said Miller. "It is a great tournament. But you want to be first. That's what drives you." (Editing by Peter Rutherford)