Troy Milam is a 23-year-old rookie playing for the first place ECHL Gwinnett Gladiators. He came to the Gladiators from Ferris State University, where he served as captain. An offensive defenseman with a terrific shot, this week Milam was named to the ECHL Western Conference All-Star team. The features some of the best prospects in the ECHL and will be played January 21st in Peoria, Illinois. Milam has 5 goals and 20 assists in 27 games for the Gladiators. Hockey’s Future caught up with Milam following Gwinnett’s 2-1 win over Greensboro this weekend.
HF: How does it feel to be nominated to the ECHL All-Star game?
TM: I’m extremely excited. I was pretty surprised when I got the call yesterday. I didn’t know where it was or anything really about it. But I got the call, and called my mom who’s up close in Michigan so she’ll be able to come down. It just goes to show what kind of team we have down here, to be in first place and to have three representatives going [goaltender Mike Garnett and Coach Jeff Pyle]. You’re only as good as the team you’re on, so it’s been working out great.
HF: How do you think your season has been going so far and how has the adjustment from college hockey been?
TM: I didn’t really have any expectations coming in. I just wanted to come in and showcase what kind of skills I had, and Coach gave me every opportunity when I first came down, which was great. I really appreciated that. We were clicking well early on and I was able to get a few points and we were able to win a lot and that’s contributed to our overall success.
HF: Do you feel like the team is playing better than the beginning of the season, or the same?
TM: Well it’s kind of hard to judge. At the beginning of the year everybody was learning the systems and it just takes everyone buying into what Coach is trying to do. We really did that. Now that we know we’re a pretty good team we can’t sneak up on anyone anymore. Every night is going to be a battle. When you’re in first place you have a target on your back every time.
HF: You’ve been paired up with Joe Bourne most of the time. How do you feel you work together?
TM: I think we play off each other pretty well. Both of us are college guys, first year guys, same type of player. We’re able to pretty much know where each other is on the ice and we started doing a new thing in the offensive zone, we kind of rotate up top and it’s kind of confusing the other team a little bit, kind of sneaking around instead of standing there waiting for something to happen. He reads off me, I read off him and it’s been going pretty well.
HF: It seems like you like to shoot from the top of the umbrella on the power play.
TM: Our power play at the beginning of the year was working so well, the puck was coming to me and I was getting a good shot on net and things were going in or something else was being created, so that means I’ll stick with that.
HF: To me it looks like the one thing you struggle with is consistency. Would you agree with that assessment?
TM: Well we play a lot of games coming from college. The older guys here say oh you college guys only play 35 games a year, so that’s a big adjustment. You have to come in and play to the best of your ability 75-80 games a year, which is something new to me, and some nights if it’s not going well I’ll kind of hold back and just do exactly what it takes for our team to win. Other nights when I feel well, I’ll be flying around the ice.
HF: Being self-reflective for a moment, what do you think you need to work on the most?
TM: Well there’s a lot to work on. Now that you brought that up, trying to be as consistent as I can. One guy isn’t going to change the outcome of the game. It’s a team effort and I want to give our team the best chance to win whether that be just staying back and getting the puck out or creating offensively.
HF: How much do you keep up with your alma mater Ferris State?
TM: I keep up with the boys. We have a lot of guys who check the internet. I always know who they’re playing and once every couple weeks I’ll get a call from the boys or I’ll make a call and find out how they’re doing.
HF: How well is Ferris doing this year?
TM: They’re not faring very well. We came off the best year ever last year in school history. I keep in touch with the guys that I graduated with, Phil Lewandowski and I. If the boys have a good weekend they’ll call me, but if they don’t, I don’t hear from them [laughs].
HF: With Ferris doing so well last year [CCHA champions], it really increased the reputation of the school. How does it feel to be a part of that?
TM: I feel tremendously honored to have played on that team. We had a great group of guys. At the start of last year I had the whole team down to my mom’s house in Detroit, we had a team thing all weekend, the whole team came. It was one cohesive unit out there. We did everything together, we hung out together, we played for each other. In the end that’s what you have to do, have a team where you want to win for the guy next to you and that’s what I think we have building here too, which is great.
HF: Who do you think is the best player to have come out of Ferris State?
TM: Well, John Gruden right now. He was over in Europe last year, and signed with Washington this year. I don’t keep in touch with him on a regular basis but I see him in the summertime, so I don’t know how he’s doing in Washington. Another guy by the name of Rod Taylor who graduated I think in 1991 from Ferris. The only reason I know him is that he’s from my hometown. I think he has the all-time goals record for the ECHL. He played all the way up until last year or the year before. There’s been four or five guys who made it to the NHL. Robby Collins is another guy in the American League, he was playing with Grand Rapids last year, with the Islanders this year. Phil Osaer, goaltender, he was drafted by St. Louis. They’re starting to come. It’s a big thing up there when we play the TV games, how they say we have no guys who were drafted. It’s basically a group of guys who come in and maybe they were overlooked when they were younger, but come in and buy into what’s going on really play for each other and work hard.
HF: Who do you think is the best player still at Ferris?
TM: Mike Brown first of all is an awesome goalie. He had a great season last year. Two juniors by the name of Jeff Legue and Derek Nesbitt. I forgot Chris Kunitz for best ever, he’s a heck of a player. When you said best ever you made me think back. Last year Kunitz had 79 points, second in the nation, Hobey Baker finalist, and every year he had 20 or more goals, so he’s tremendous player. He signed a big ticket with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and he’s playing in Cincinnati right now. But I don’t think he’ll be there for long. He’s one heck of a player. Nesbitt and Legue are good players, they played with Kunitz last year. They’re not doing as well as they did last year, they’re missing a big key which was Kunitz.
HF: What was it like playing for Ferris State coach Bob Daniels [American Hockey Coaches Association Division I Hockey Coach of the Year] ?
TM: Bob Daniels was a great coach. He brought me in, gave me the same opportunity Coach Pyle did right from the start, power play, penalty kill. Great guy, especially around the community. He was great with my mom, she was able to talk him, that’s what my mom likes. Good guy all around on and off the ice, I really enjoyed playing for Bob.
HF: How would you compare playing for Daniels with playing for Jeff Pyle, are they similar?
TM: They are similar. Coaching-wise it’s different here because there are different rules in this league, like the red line. I really enjoy Coach Pyle’s systems and the similarity is that they are both very personable, very approachable, very businesslike. It’s enjoyable to play for Bob and it’s enjoyable now.
HF: Your brother Jamie is at Northern Michigan, how’s he doing this year?
TM: He’s doing well, he’s home for Christmas break right now. My brother is his own biggest critic. He’s a defenseman, very offensive. He had a great year his freshman year, kind of got overlooked when the draft came around but he still has a chance this year. He’s looking forward to another productive year.
HF: What do you think would be a successful season for you?
TM: I’d have to look at what our team does. It’s always better, no matter what happens, when you’re on a winning team. I think now that we’re going into Christmas break and we have these two games on top of the league, I can’t see anything but that, going through the end of the year being on top. It’s always hard for younger guys, I remember when I was at school and what kind of season we were having, to think that this happens every year. You have to realize it doesn’t happen every year and you have to take what’s on the table for you. So a successful season for me would be team success and anything else that comes would be a bonus.