Watching your teammates play from the press box is never a fun thing for any hockey player.
So Whistler's Garrett Milan has made the most of his opportunities since returning to the St. Cloud State University Huskies' lineup, earning more ice time as the NCAA Division I squad has got off to another hot start.
To make way for some of the new faces on the St. Cloud roster, Milan was held out of the lineup for the first seven games of the season. But the small, speedy forward quickly made an impact with two goals in his first two games.
"It felt great to get into the lineup and contribute offensively, for sure," Milan said last week from the Minnesota school's campus.
The 22-year-old, a junior for the Huskies this season, had two eye surgeries in the offseason to correct a vision problem and said he's been seeing the ice much better since. The coaching staff told Milan they were pleased with the improvements they were seeing in his game and that he wouldn't be a healthy scratch for long.
"We had some freshmen coming in that they wanted to give a chance to and I kind of got the short end of the stick, but I stayed positive for the whole thing and the coach told me... to stay patient and I'd get a chance," said Milan. "When I did, I made the best of it, I think."
Milan scored two goals in each of his first two seasons with St. Cloud State. This year, he scored both on his first two shots.
He shovelled in a rebound to help the Huskies edge Miami (Ohio) 2-1 for an in-conference victory at home on Nov. 9, and followed up with another goal during a 10-0 rout of Alabama-Huntsville the following weekend.
"I think my offseason work with (Crossfit trainer) Jordan Glasser in Whistler made me a lot faster and stronger," said Milan. "I'd been more confident with the puck and making plays... in practice and I think that's translated into the games so far."
Huskies head coach Bob Motzko said Milan handled his time out of the lineup with great maturity. The St. Cloud bench boss added that the Whistler skater has brought good energy in his return to game action.
"Garrett's extremely hard working. He's got tremendous heart and a great attitude," said Motzko. "That's the best thing about him — he's a great team player. He's not in there every night, but the nights he's in there he gives us a spark."
The Huskies are now 4-0 with Milan in the lineup this season as they've burst out of the gate at 9-1-2, including a 4-1-1 record in National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) play. St. Cloud sat at No. 2 in the national rankings that came out Monday, Nov. 25.
Last year, the Huskies won the regular season title while playing their final campaign in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. They later advanced to the Frozen Four national championships for the first time in their history despite icing a fairly young lineup. With many key players returning this year, including five NHL draft picks, Milan thinks St. Cloud has the pieces in place to make another run at an NCAA title.
"Our goaltending is some of the best in the league," said Milan. "Our D corps is one of the best in the country as well. I think if we keep having guys contributing offensively we can for sure get back there."
The road there won't be easy, though. The NCHC is new for this season and is one of the toughest conferences in the NCAA, but Milan thinks having a number of difficult divisional opponents is a good thing for St. Cloud.
"We play well against teams in our conference that are tough to play against," he said. "Against teams like Miami and North Dakota, we play our best hockey because we know it's a good challenge and we have to play our 'A' game to beat them.
"There are no nights off in our league this year, that's for sure."
The Huskies are idle this weekend but will travel for back-to-back conference games against the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs on Dec. 6 and 7.
Visit www.scsuhuskies.com to follow Milan's Huskies and for links to live audio and video game broadcasts.