Shortly before Wednesday’s Stanley Cup Final Game 3, Mark Messier formally announced the three finalists for a trophy in his honor: The Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award.
Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres were selected as the three players “who exemplify great leadership qualities to their team, on and off the ice during the regular season.”
Miller is up against two incredible opponents, but he has to be the favorite.
On ice, the 2009-10 regular season was Miller’s best season to date.
The 29-year-old finished second in the league in goals-against average (2.22) and save percentage (.929), and fourth in wins with 41—all three statistics are career-highs. He also almost single-handedly led the Sabres to their first Northeast Division crown since the 2006-07 season.
Miller’s numbers have also made him the favorite for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender where he will be going up against Ilya Bryzgalov of the Coyotes and Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils.
The Buffalo netminder also led Team USA to a silver medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics and was named the tournament’s MVP.
While Miller’s on-ice achievements certainly make him a viable contender for the prestigious award, it is his off-ice accomplishments which make him the favorite against Doan and Crosby.
Miller formed the Steadfast Foundation in 2006 to help cancer patients, more specifically children, and their hardships with the disease.
In 2007, Miller’s cousin, Matt Shoals, died from complications with leukemia. He was the motivation for the foundation. Shoals is honored every game by his cousin who has “Matt Man” on the back of his helmet.
In just four years of existence, the Steadfast Foundation has raised more than $500,000.
Miller also donates suite tickets for every Sabres home game to Carly’s Club, a support group for children and families who are fighting cancer.
His efforts with the Steadfast Foundation, along with numerous charity events for the Sabres, also made Miller one of three finalists for NHL Foundation Player Award.
“Ryan has perhaps become the premier goalie in our game...more importantly, he has tremendous compassion for children in his off-ice work,” Messier told NHL.com after the announcement of the three finalists.
The combination of Miller’s on-the-ice talents with his off-the-ice compassion and charity makes him not just a rare hockey player, but a rare human being—and an easy favorite for the Mark Messier Leadership Award.