When called upon, Garrett Milan lent a helping hand to the Pensacola Ice Flyers this season.
In his first North American pro season after two seasons in Europe, Milan latched on to the Southern Professional Hockey League's Ice Flyers, scoring 65 points in 55 games, including a league-leading 51 assists.
"It went pretty well for me, personally," he said. "I didn't score as much as I wanted to. I had a little bit of a drought in the middle of the season where I didn't score a lot, but I still had assists."
After feeling frustration in previous years in Europe, Milan felt freedom with the Ice Flyers that he didn't enjoy elsewhere.
"I have an offensive side to my game and I don't think I got the opportunity my last year in Europe to show that. It's hard to say that, then prove it," he said. "Our coach (Jeff Bes) put me on the power play and into all situations and all systems."
On the team side, the Ice Flyers' season ended a little bit sooner than Milan had hoped, as the fifth-ranked Knoxville Ice Bears bested Pensacola in the best-of-three first-round playoff series.
The Ice Flyers' late-season slide saw them win just five of their last 14 games as they slipped from challenging top seed Peoria to falling back of second-place Macon, and drawing a tougher first-round matchup. The SPHL instituted a new playoff format this year in which the top four teams, in order, select from the four lower seeds. Pensacola opted for No. 5 Knoxville instead of No. 7 Mississippi.
Milan points to a January game against Macon when Pensacola had opened up a 4-1 lead only to falter late and lose 5-4, costing them valuable points.
"That was a game in the middle of the season where you might not think it matters, but it definitely came back to bite us at the end of the season," he said.
The Ice Flyers' stalls, Milan said, came when some injuries and call-ups to higher leagues struck toward the end of the season.
"The first half of the season went really well ... but we definitely didn't finish off the way we wanted to, that's for sure," he said. "It was a different team than we had at the beginning of the season, but a lot of it was to do with the pieces that we had. I think we had a great team, personally, with the 20 guys we had in the locker room."
The Ice Flyers' schedule didn't do them any favours either, as they finished the season with 11 games in 23 days, including three games in three nights to cap the campaign. Ice problems early in Pensacola's season forced three games to be rescheduled to later in the season, which further compounded issues.
"Everyone was going into playoffs beat up pretty bad," Milan said. "That definitely was a factor."
One treat for Milan this season was the opportunity to play three games with the ECHL's Atlanta Gladiators, recording one assist. In two of those games, the squad faced the Manchester Monarchs, one of the loop's top teams, while the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, who finished one point up on dead last, was the opponent in the other.
"(Atlanta is) the place I wanted to start off and play, and I did really well at the training camp there. I was going to make that team if it wasn't for a couple guys coming down from the AHL," he said. "It's faster hockey, but the big thing is that the guys are a little bit more strong. It's a little more situational and there's a little more structure in that league, which makes it a little bit different to play."
Milan said he's currently in talks with an agent regarding his future for next season. He's open to returning to Europe, but also has hopes of parlaying his season here in North America into regular ECHL work next year.