Ryan Miller was the most valuable player at the Olympic tournament, where he won a silver medal for Team USA. He's one of the best hockey players America has ever produced. He's making $6.25 million this year for the NHL's Buffalo Sabres. His team is in first place. He's dating an actress. And if you asked him, he'd probably be happier if we shut up right now.

"What can I say?" Mr. Miller said during an interview on a press tour Monday, where he said all the attention has been a bit surreal. "I'm from the Midwest, and everything was always about keeping a low profile."

Here's one of the most persistent quirks of hockey: To be great, a team needs a superhuman goaltender with freakish reflexes. But to be a superhuman goaltender, it helps to be the kind of person who's comfortable working behind a mask while loaded down with 50 pounds of padding.

Tending goal not only means taking the occasional hard rubber disc to the face at 100 miles per hour. It also means subjecting yourself to almost certain failure most nights.

Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils, who's widely considered the greatest goalie in history, has allowed nearly 2,700 goals in 1,236 games.

As a result, great goalies are rarely placed in the same stratosphere of publicity and celebrity as highflying goal scorers like the Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby or the great Wayne Gretzky. While the goalies may be the most impactful players in any game, only seven of the top 50 sweaters sold on NHLshop.com belong to goaltenders.

Brian Jennings, vice president for integrated marketing for the NHL, said the goofy painted masks and robot costumes can be an impediment to stardom. "They become more well known through their artwork," Mr. Jennings said.

Former New York Rangers goaltender Mike Richter says the goalie mask isn't exactly a ticket to fame and fortune.

"If your goal is to sell Chiclets or make hamburger commercials then it's going to be a problem," he said. "But I really wouldn't suggest playing without one."

Miller is now the most famous face among the young core of American players who will be favored to win a medal at the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

While he made 139 saves during the Vancouver Olympics, he'll most likely be remembered for the one he didn't make -- Crosby's overtime shot that delivered the gold medal to Canada.

Miller, who is 29 years old, said the seconds leading up to the shot keep playing through his mind.

He remembers watching Crosby emerge from the corner with the puck and thinking that the renowned scorer was going to take a moment to gather himself and make a move.

As a result, Miller said he stepped up and prepared to challenge Crosby, to take control of the play the way he had done through the entire tournament. Only as he did, Crosby fired the puck toward the net and beat Miller through the legs before he'd even realized that a shot was coming. Gold medal, Canada.

"I made my decision and it went into the net," Miller said succinctly. After the game was over, Miller was curt in a postgame interview.

This outcome showed the sort of automatic responsibility for all bad results that makes goaltending a humbling job.

"When your goalie plays well, he's the last person who takes full responsibility; that's where the buck stops," said Lou Lamoriello, president and general manager of the Devils. "It's unfortunate that sometimes when things don't go right they take the blame."

Ken Dryden, a Hall-of-Fame goalie for the Montreal Canadiens who is now a member of the Canadian parliament, said the position demands a character who, from a young age, is comfortable with staying behind his team and watching and analyzing the action rather than forcing dramatic things to happen.

"You have to be absolutely reliable," Dryden said. "You have to be disciplined. You have to be responsible. You have to have a lot of understated qualities. You have to decide that there is something more important than you are. You have to be willing to play that way. You can't grab attention by the lapel and insist on it. You're going to get it sometimes and not get it other times. The game is going to come to you and you've got to be willing to accept that. There are not that many people who are really talented who are willing to accept that."

--Sophia Hollander contributed to this article.