The Buffalo Sabres in recent years have built up solid depth at the right wing position via trades and good drafting. Some of this talent is already on the Buffalo roster, but there are still a couple of good prospects in the pipeline. One of those prospects, Norm Milley, is currently playing for the Rochester Americans of the AHL.
Norm was selected by Buffalo in the 2nd round of the 1998 NHL Draft, one of three 2nd round picks the Sabres made in that draft. The Toronto native starred for the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL, where he spent four seasons prior to turning pro in the summer of 2000. Milley set or tied several team records in Sudbury, and finished his junior career as the second-leading scorer in Wolves history. While the gentleman one point ahead of Norm on Sudbury’s scoring list (Jamie Matthews) may not be familiar to a lot of hockey fans, the two names directly after Milley’s, Ron Duguay and Mike Foligno, should be a little more recognizable to long-time NHL followers.
Milley turned in a solid first season in the AHL last year, earning Rochester’s Rookie of the Year award. His second season with the Amerks got off to a bit of a slow start, but Norm has come on in the season’s 2nd half to remind the organization why he was a high draft pick. Milley’s strong play recently earned him his first call-up to the NHL, where he picked up his first NHL point.
I had a chance to interview Norm following a recent Amerks practice. Below is a transcript of that conversation, with my questions being designated with the initials HF, and Norm’s answers being denoted with the letters NM.
HF: Let’s talk about this season, first. You had a good training camp (in Buffalo), but you were one of the last cuts from the team. Did that bother you at all, heading back to Rochester again?
NM: It was a little frustrating, but getting sent down was not too bad of a disappointment. It’s a great organization down here, a great coaching staff and a great group of guys, so it was a win-win situation for me.
HF: You’ve come on over the last 15 or 20 games, and are playing a lot better. Was your slow start a result of the team starting slowly, or was it more of a personal slump?
NM: I think I didn’t bear down on my chances enough. Sometimes the chances aren’t going to go in for you, so the only way to get out of these slumps is just to work hard, and you’ll get a bounce here or there. Over the last little while, I’ve been getting some good bounces. I’ll just keep working hard, and hopefully things will keep going well.
HF: When you’re playing your best, what things do you do well that make you a good NHL prospect?
NM: I feel I can read the ice pretty well. My main asset is probably working hard along the boards- I’m hard to knock off my feet. I just go out there, work hard, and give 100% every night, just do anything to win the game.
HF: Let’s go back to your junior career. You played 4 seasons for the Sudbury Wolves. What was it like to go from living in Canada’s biggest city (Toronto), to playing in a much smaller town like Sudbury?
NM: It wasn’t too big of an adjustment. My parents were from Newfoundland, and we go back there almost every summer. It’s kind of similar to Sudbury, the atmosphere and all. I enjoyed playing in Sudbury; I enjoyed my 4 years there a lot.
HF: What would you say were the highlights while you were playing for Sudbury?
NM: I guess it would be tying and breaking some of the franchise records. They had a night for me and my family at my last game, so it was something I’ll never forget.
HF: Have you been back there since you left?
NM: Yeah, I go back every summer, almost. I go golfing a few times with the Wolves owner, Mark Burgess. He’s a great guy, so I go back there when I can to stay in touch with him.
HF: You played with Taylor Pyatt in Sudbury. When the (Peca) trade went down, and you saw that Taylor was coming to the Sabres, you must have been pretty happy to have another former teammate join you in the Buffalo organization.
NM: I definitely was. My fiancée is from Thunder Bay, where Taylor is from, and we headed to Thunder Bay for the summer, and had some time with Pyatt. He was shocked, but he was kind of happy to get into this organization. He played with me and Jeremy Adduono, so it wasn’t too big of a jump for him. Pyatt’s a great guy, a great hockey player, and I hope the best for him.
HF: Did you 2 play on a line together in Sudbury, or were you pretty much separate?
NM: It was usually me, Jason Jaspers and Taylor. We had some good times together. Taylor’s a hard-working player, so all the best to him.
HF: You were a 3-time all-star in Sudbury. Would you say your best season there was your final season (99-00)?
NM: It was a very good season. We had a great group of guys who worked hard. We had a lot of veteran players, like Mike Gorman in net and Brad Morgan on the back end. My last year, there were 4 other guys who were in their last year on the team, so when we got knocked out in the 7th game against Barrie, it was pretty tough. You don’t realize it, but the 4 years go by pretty quick. So, I was sitting in my parents’ van after the game, and I kind of got a little emotional, you know, because it was really over and I had to start a new career. I’m glad to be here in Rochester, but the 4 years in Sudbury were fantastic.
HF: Those are probably 4 years you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
NM: Definitely. It’s your growing-up years, you’re 16 or 17, and you have to look after yourself. You become more independent, and you grow up a lot quicker.
HF: You had a recent call-up to the NHL. Any thoughts on your first regular season NHL action?
NH: It was everything it is made out to be. The NHL is definitely the cream of the crop. The pace of the hockey up there is a lot faster and you have to think a little more. You don’t have the extra time to move around with the puck. But it was a great experience; it’s something I’ll never forget, a dream come true. I worked my whole life for that moment, I got a little taste of it, and I’ll just keep working hard and hopefully I can get called back up sometime.
HF: Do you think you might get another call-up to the Sabres this year, or don’t they tell you that?
NM: They really don’t let you know any information about that. When I got sent down, Lindy told me just to go down there and work hard, and keep my feet moving. If something happens up there, and I’m playing well, I’ll get a call-up. So I’m working hard, giving 100%, and I’ll let the chips fall in place.
HF: Coming out of training camp, were there any parts of your game that the coaches told you to work on in Rochester?
NM: They told me to be consistent, you have to play every game. You can’t take any nights off, or any shifts off, for that matter. They also told me to keep my feet moving, because sometimes I tend to maneuver around with the puck. In juniors, you can deke around guys standing still, but here it’s a lot different. You have to keep your feet moving, so it’s something I’ll continue to work on.
HF: Being Canadian, I’m sure you’re pretty happy about Team Canada winning the gold in the Olympics. Do you have any international experience? Did you play in any tournaments when you were younger?
NM: I played in the under-17 in Red Deer with Team Ontario, and we won the gold there. Then the next year, under-18 with Team Canada, we played in the Czech Republic and won the gold there. So, I’ve had some international play. It’s a different feeling, you know, you’ve got a group of guys from all around the country who pull together to represent the country. It’s something, ever since you were a kid, you dream of and you watch. Seeing Canada and the U.S., 2 great countries going at it in the finals, it was a very exciting game. We were watching in the room, we’ve got American players on the (Amerks), and it was really something. It was good for Canada.
HF: Canada can’t get enough of it- I’ve seen the game like 3 times already! But, hey, I’m happy for Canada. Going forward, then, what kinds of things does Rochester need to do better to get into the playoffs?
NM: I think one thing is, we have to play all 60 minutes of the hockey game. Some games, we play well for 40 minutes, and the other 20 minutes we die out. The last 10 games or so, this team has been playing pretty solid hockey. We’re playing desperate, and that’s what we have to do to continue to win. Once we get everyone on board, blocking shots and paying the price to win like we have lately, I think things will go well for this team.
HF: Now, you grew up in Toronto, so I’m assuming you must have been a Maple Leafs fan.
NM: A huge Maple Leafs fan. Saturday night, my father and I watched Hockey Night in Canada. It was the big thing growing up, and it was a big rivalry between Buffalo and Toronto. So, when I was drafted by Buffalo, my friends were razzing me a little. But, it’s my job now, and it’s the team that I play for, so I’m happy to be with the Buffalo organization.
HF: What player did you idolize when you were younger?
NM: I idolized Cam Neely. Cam Neely was a power forward, he worked hard in the corners, and he was just an up-and-down winger. I try to structure my play around his role- he was a great player, but I don’t think I’ll ever fill his shoes. He is someone I looked up to.
HF: I appreciate the time, Norm. Good luck to you. Maybe we’ll see you in Buffalo again soon, hopefully.
NM: Thanks a lot. Yeah, hopefully.