Foundation Friday : The Steadfast Foundation

When most people hear the name Ryan Miller they think of the long time Buffalo Sabres and current Vancouver Canucks goaltender. When I hear the name Ryan Miller I think community game changer based on the work he and his family do through The Steadfast Foundation.

The Steadfast Foundation started in 2006 stemming from Ryan Miller’s own personal situation regarding cancer. Miller’s cousin, Matt, had been diagnosed with Leukemia and he felt helpless as what to do in this situation.

They started off by selling t-shirts to raise awareness. Then a group of people in Buffalo got involved and began to help spread the word.

It was really a group of people in Buffalo who had been working with Jim Kelly and “Kelly for Kids” who helped us in the beginning. They decided to show us what we could do to raise money for kids with cancer.

  • Dean Miller – Father of Ryan Miller

From there Miller decided he wanted to continue to support the fight against pediatric cancer.

Ryan’s comment was ‘as long as I have a little bit of a soap box here, as far as the spotlight from the NHL, I’m going to take the opportunity to bring people’s attention to things I want to talk about.’

  • Dean Miller – Father of Ryan Miller

At the time, the Miller family wanted to focus on kids with cancer and how they could help. They understood they weren’t doctors or scientists but they felt as though a difference could be made through their actions. So, the Miller family began to focus more on the psychosocial aspect of having cancer.

We thought we could make the biggest difference helping the psychosocial programs associated with cancer. When kids are diagnosed they will have things to take their mind off the challenge, the battle. That’s really what we focus on.

  • Dean Miller – Father of Ryan Miller

The Steadfast Foundation turned their attention towards raising funds for the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo and their psychosocial organization, Carly’s Club.

Every donation made towards Carly’s Club helps fund important psychosocial programs such as family counseling, caregiver support programs, and patient comfort bags. They aren’t just helping save lives, they are helping keep families together.

The Support of Buffalo

The Millers give a lot of credit to the city of Buffalo and Western New York for the success of The Steadfast Foundation.

From the time Miller was drafted by the Sabres to being traded to the Blues in 2014, the people in Buffalo and Western New York supported Miller every step of the way. They made him feel like he was family and what he was doing was worthy of the support.


The community is an amazing collection of people. Their philanthropy is amazing. He felt like a Buffalonian, a Western New Yorker. The unfortunate part of the NHL is it’s a business. Leaving Buffalo was really hard. They are great people. I’ll tell you we never thought Steadfast would become what Steadfast has become at all. We were selling t-shirts to help my sister get through a tough time. We ended up losing Matt and experiencing all the things that come along with the loss. They (Buffalo) just said hey, ‘We will pick you up and dust you off’.

  • Dean Miller – Father of Ryan Miller


Shifting Focus

Going from Buffalo to the Blues to the Canucks the foundation had to shift their focus a little.

Ryan’s soapbox shifted from east to west, to a city where players have been for a long time. Their causes are kind of taken. The Sedin Twins and a few others are doing great things in the community like Ryan was doing in Buffalo.

  • Dean Miller – Father of Ryan Miller

They decided to begin focusing on disabilities. More specifically on people who have to rely on wheelchairs or other technology for mobility. Which, thanks to Miller partaking in a Gatorade commercial, led the foundation to the idea of bringing attention to those in need of mobility assistance in the hockey world.


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Immediately after shooting the commercial Miller called his dad.

Ryan said ‘We gotta get involved in this. This is amazing.’

  • Dean Miller – Father of Ryan Miller

This experience led to Miller’s support of Sled Hockey America and the creation of the “Freewheel Community Fund”.


FreeWheel Community Fund

The FreeWheel is an attachment to help wheelchairs move through rough terrain. Wheelchairs and their accessories are not exactly cheap. The Steadfast Foundation came up with a plan to help alleviate the cost by involving the community.

The Steadfast Foundation put a module on their website which allows the setup of a crowdfunding campaign for someone in need of a FreeWheel. Anyone interested in helping crowdfund for a person can do so right on the website.

Then the foundation helps promote the crowdfund through their Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

If we can serve as an anchor or focal point for somebody’s social activity we think it will help a lot.

  • Dean Miller – Father of Ryan Miller

Importance of the FreeWheel to the Millers

Dean Miller used to work for a computer software company in Boise, Idaho. After his first year there he ran into a girl who he went to high school with in Michigan. Her significant other turned out to be the designer of the FreeWheel, Pat Dougherty.

At that time Dougherty and his brother were welding, as well as selling, the FreeWheels in their garage. They wanted to become more than just a home garage storefront.

Most of Miller’s career had been spent working in the computer software realm building distribution business for technology companies. Based on this fact he decided to give Dougherty a business plan to help with a possible expansion. The business plan was a success.

 I ran into them a year later and they told me they are now in 18 countries. They are manufacturing in Taiwan and aren’t welding in the garage.

  • Dean Miller – Father of Ryan Miller

The ever so thankful Dougherty wanted to show his appreciation for the business plan Miller gave him. Dougherty decided to give him the FreeWheel selling rights to Canada for Miller’s cousin, Joel.

This would give Joel the ability to integrate back into society because he was dealing with some issues. Being confined to a chair after being athletic for most his life was a big change.

  • Dean Miller

One night Joel Bancescue and his lady decided to go for a late night swim. Forgetting the lake was down 17″ that summer Bancescue and his girlfriend dove into the lake. Unfortunately, Bansecue didn’t surface right away. His girlfriend quickly began to look for him. Eventually Bancescue was found when his girlfriend walked into him underwater. She pulled him up by his hair and began yelling at him for scaring her. Unfortunately, Bancescue couldn’t feel anything. He ended up being diagnosed as a high-level quad.

Bancescue still has the rights to Canada today through the Miller’s new company, Epical Solutions.

Birth of the FreeWheel

Pat Dougherty had a passion for motocross racing and traveled the world doing what he loved. During a race he crashed and was hit in the head leaving him paralyzed.

He’s dumping himself out of his chair as his kids soccer game because he can’t get across the grass. One of the perils of being in a chair is once you get off a smooth surface you are done for.

  • Dean Miller – Father of Ryan Miller

A lot of people in wheelchairs will try to do wheelies to get over rocks and get around on non-smooth surfaces. They shouldn’t have to be popping wheelies just to get around.  Dougherty decided to do something about it and began to figure out a way to add an extra wheel to his chair which would allow him to move safely over rocky terrain.

The reason he built it was for him. To figure out how to be more mobile. It turned out to be a great idea and now he is helping more people like him.

  • Dean Miller – Father of Ryan Miller

In recent years they have created an adapter which allows folding wheelchairs to have an attached freewheel.

That opens up the use cases by a mile. There are probably 15 to 20 times as many people dependent upon a folding wheelchair for whatever calamity has put them in that situation.

  • Dean Miller – Father of Ryan Miller


Masquerade Wine

The Steadfast Foundation has started a new and rather unique iniative called Masquerade Wine.

The premise is really the man/woman behind the mask, the wine behind the label. There are a lot of goalies out there but what do you really know about them.

  • Dean Miller – Father of Ryan Miller

The wine they are offering is mostly wine that people would never experience because the vineyards are incredibly small. They produce around 400 to 500 cases of wine a season.

They win all the contest but you won’t hear about them because they can’t make enough to get out of their zipcode. Really the only way is to be a part of their wine club and be introduced to their wine.

  • Dean Miller – Father of Ryan Miller

On these elusive bottles of wine there will be a card.

On the front is a unique picture of the goaltender. On the back is information about the goaltender you might not neccessarily know or be able to find out about them.

  • Dean Miller – Father of Ryan Miller

Not only do you get to taste amazing wine you can’t find locally, you also get to learn unknown facts about a few of USA hockeys goalies.

The Steadfast Foundation is hoping to launch this initiative in time for Christmas. Each bottle helps fund the team the goalie plays for pay for things like travel and training.