Garrett Milan stresses that he can thrive on adversity.
This year, especially, it's a significant quality to have, as both the 23-year-old forward and his St. Cloud State University Huskies have had tumultuous seasons.
At the Christmas break, St. Cloud State — which has won or tied for the league regular season championship the past two seasons — was mired near the National Collegiate Hockey Conference cellar with a 2-5-1 in-conference record and 6-9-1 mark overall.
Milan, meanwhile, has dressed for just six of those 16 games, scoring a single assist. He said it's been tough for him to watch from the press box, as he didn't play in the five games to wrap up the first half of the season.
"I started off playing and playing well," said Milan, who is one of the few Huskies in the black in the plus-minus department at +1.
Being his last season with the team in a year where the Huskies are less competitive, Milan understands if coach Bob Motzko is looking to insert some younger players into the lineup with an eye toward the future. He planned to meet with the coaches before the break to clarify his role, and pledged to keep up the hard work in anticipation of being tapped on the shoulder.
"I'm ready to play whenever I get the call," he said.
In a follow-up text message after the meeting, Milan said he's "just hoping to get more games in to help our team."
Milan, who stands 5-7 weighing 165 lbs, recalled going through discouraging times before. After being cut in his first attempt at making the Vancouver NW Giants because of his size, he made the team the following year and was a go-to player, finishing second in league scoring. The following year, some discouraged him from trying to make the jump to the Jr. A level because of his size. Milan shrugged off that advice, and after his 2008-09 season with the Penticton Vees, was named the Interior Conference's winner of the Bruce Allison Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year after tallying 25 goals and 32 assists.
"Adversity is going to be good for me," he said.
Though he grew up as a scorer, making the jump to NCAA Division I hockey required him to take on a bit of a different role. Down in Minnesota, he has been asked to play a grittier, defensive, "energy" kind of part.
At a team level, Milan observed the Huskies need to be better scoring even-strength, as they've scored just 23 of their 40 goals five-on-five. As well, with the NCHC scheduling back-to-back games against opponents, Milan would like to see the Huskies pull off more sweeps of the weekend.
"We need to have a better weekend as a whole," he said. "We'll kill them on Friday and come back and lay an egg on Saturday."
He hopes this season isn't his last hurrah in hockey, as Milan is eyeing a professional career in, well, Milan, Italy or perhaps elsewhere in Europe. Noting landing that kind of work requires connections, Milan has an inside edge, as former Vees assistant coach Dave Small has coached in places like Italy and Poland.
However, the marketing student does have some education to fall back on if pro hockey doesn't end up working out, as he'd hope to land a job in the business marketing field.
"It's always good to have a Plan B," Milan said.