IOC threatens to nix tribute to late cousin
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia – When Ryan Miller, goaltender of the United States’ men’s hockey team, commissioned the painting of a special Olympic mask, he suspected some of it might run into trouble.
His “Miller Time” saying might be construed as advertising. An artist’s rendering of the Olympic rings might veer too far from – or come too close to – the heavily guarded logo.
The International Olympic Committee has so many rules it makes the NCAA appear lax, and as of Monday evening, officials were disputing multiple parts of Miller’s helmet. he may either have to paint over them or, as he put it, cover them “with electrical tape.”
The one part Miller wasn’t anticipating trouble with – and the one he will fight the hardest to keep – is the simple inscription “Matt Man.”
That’s the nickname he used with his cousin, Matt Schoals, who died in 2007 from complications of a bone marrow transplant to treat leukemia. Schoals was 18. Miller has honored Schoals ever since by painting “Matt Man” on his Buffalo Sabres helmet.
“I’ll contest,” Miller said Monday, unsure exactly what the process entails. “My aunt and uncle and my family, it’s important to them. It’s important to me.
“I’m going to stand up for that.”
The IOC did not respond immediately for comment. a final decision may not come until a few hours before Team USA’s opener against Switzerland at 3 p.m. ET Tuesday.
Olympic officials understandably attempt to control the uniforms Olympians wear. Helmets – whether in skiing, hockey or sledding – are where athletes often attempt to apply originality. There crackdowns, however, are often draconian. As Miller notes, each U.S. goaltender had “some paint issues,” as have skiers such as Lindsey Vonn.
The IOC has rules upon regulations upon more rules upon more regulations. Everything is about control, power and money. The organization gets all of it, the athletes, who for years were forced into amateurism rules, get none.
Not bending to allow Matt Man would be a major lapse in judgment.
The issue here may boil down to a matter of understanding. Miller was hopeful that if he could explain the meaning of “Matt Man,” it would stay. he surmised Olympic officials might’ve thought the term was designed to sell something.
He had no idea though and didn’t want to argue his case in the press. Mostly he shrugged at the entire process; his helmets are fan favorites, something he’s almost known for as much as developing into one of the NHL’s best goaltenders.
“I’m not trying to be flashy [with the helmet], I’m just trying to have some fun,” Miller said.
The tribute to Schoals is even more than that. Family is everything to Miller and hockey is almost everything to the Miller family. This is one of those classic American hockey clans; Miller’s grandfather, Butch, played hockey at Michigan State in the 1950s and has passed down a love affair with the game that now runs four generations.
Ryan and his brother Drew (now with the Detroit Red Wings) played at Michigan State, as did their father (Dean), uncle (Lyle) and five cousins (Kip, Kevin and Kelly Miller and Curtis and Taylor Gremmel). There are a couple of 10- and 11-year-olds who may get there soon, Ryan said. Kevin and Kelly played for USA Hockey, making Ryan’s starting role in the 2010 Games the continuation of a family tradition.
In 2006, Schoals was a typical 16-year-old in DeWitt, Mich., when he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. The family rallied to raise funds, sell T-shirts and volunteer in the fight against the disease. The more they did, the more they learned the devastation of the disease.
“I had done hospital visits but it was never so real as when Matt was diagnosed,” Miller told NHL.com.
Miller and his father founded the Steadfast Foundation to help “to provide support and resources to those suffering the life-altering effects of cancer, especially all forms of childhood leukemia.” Through fundraisers, they work with professionals in Michigan and Western new York in an effort to help maintain a quality of life for the kids.
“We felt that the things that helped a patient remain as ‘normal’ as possible during treatment would help them gain and maintain a more positive attitude to more effectively battle cancer,” the foundation’s literature reads.
The “Matt Man” inscription is more than that to Miller, though. It’s personal. And it’s particularly important on his Olympic helmet because, like every member of his family, he grew up dreaming of the opportunity to represent his country. he was born five months after the Miracle on Ice, yet heard at an early age the stories of that accomplishment.
His father played college hockey with a number of the members of that team. And through the years Miller has met not just 1980 players such as Mike Eurizone but members of the 1960 USA gold medal team such as Bill Cleary.
Miller, 29, is a wealthy, famous professional athlete, yet Team USA is still a big deal. “This is cool,” he smiled Monday. His mask even contains a couple of small shamrocks, referencing the ones on the mask of 1980 goaltender Jim Craig.
“To have something like that explained at a young age builds an aura around it,” Miller said. “I heard rumblings as a young kid, ‘This is why it’s important, this is something USA hockey accomplished.’”
He’s playing for his country. He’s playing for his family. And he’d love to honor the cousin that didn’t have a chance to chase all his dreams.
All Miller can do now is wait on the IOC’s decision.
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