Exploring Europe is a common post-college option for many 20-somethings.
After four years at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, Garrett Milan has done just that — all the while getting paid to play hockey.
The 24-year-old has been able to see his fair share of the continent already this season, as he has played for two different teams in the MOL Liga, which has teams in Romania and Hungary. More recently, with his Dunaújvárosi Acélbikák squad out of playoff contention, he was granted his release to pursue an opportunity with the Elite Ice Hockey League's Edinburgh Capitals.
"I was getting towards the end of my season in Hungary and the team wasn't making playoffs. There were a couple teams in Hungary who wanted me for their playoffs, but that fell through at the last second. I was talking to one of my buddies (Brandon Thompson) that came over here about a month ago. He loved it and said they need a couple extra players and asked if I was interested," Milan recalled. "I got in contact with the coach five minutes later and made the deal happen."
In addition to Thompson, Milan's former Vancouver NW Giants teammate at the midget level, Capitals leading scorer Trevor Gerling also vouched for his former BCHL opponent.
Even though the Capitals are mired in a challenging stretch — they've lost 13 EIHL games in a row and have only won once in the Elite League since early December — Milan said players have done well to remain positive, especially considering several of the team's top players have themselves departed to join other clubs. With the hope of earning a more lucrative deal, he's held up his end of the bargain to this point, with a goal and five assists in six games thus far.
"They're trying to keep an upbeat, positive attitude, but obviously it's tough when you know you're mathematically out of a playoff spot and these games don't mean a lot to the team, per se, but at the same time, guys are playing for jobs for next year, for contracts for next year."
One of the major points for Milan was reacclimatizing himself to a high-skill level, which was often lacking in the MOL Liga, which gave preference to its local skaters. Meanwhile, in his new league, Milan found himself trying to outduel a former Stanley Cup champion in Braehead's Richard Jackman, a defenceman who won with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.
"The level is definitely a lot higher than Hungary as a whole because there are 12 import spots here, and in Hungary, it's six," he said. "It's a higher quality of import players, too, so it's a better league from top to bottom."
While Milan may have to occasionally decipher some thick brogue, he's glad to be back in a league where instructions don't have to be translated from Russian like with his clubs in the MOL Liga.
Upon signing Milan, Capitals player-coach Riley Emmerson said in a release he was thrilled to bring a player like him to the team.
"Garrett is a small quick feisty competitive player. He is looking for a chance to prove himself for next season," Emmerson said. "He will bring a boat load of speed to our line up. He is also a player who will lay it on the line every shift."
Milan is happy to be wanted, explaining he occasionally clashed with the two Russian coaches he played for in Debreceni, his first stop in Hungary, sometimes struggling to find ice time despite being one of the team's top producers.
"I had seven games with the new coach (after the previous coach was fired) and he didn't put me on the power play. It was frustrating, being one of the skill guys on that team," he said. "I made it pretty clear I didn't want to be there with that coach and within 10 minutes a team (Dunaújvárosi Acélbikák) wanted me."