By Christine Troyke
Gwinnett Daily Post
DULUTH, Ga. – It might be better for the opposition if Troy Milam doesn’t make a mistake. It happens so rarely, but when it does, the Gwinnett Gladiators defenseman wastes no time making up for it – and no one wants to be in the line of fire then.
“I had a guy, Ryan Knox, exactly the same, who would only get in trouble when he got bored and he’d just start trying stuff,” Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle said with an indulgent sort of smile. “That’s the way Milo is. He’s, like, ‘I can throw it up the middle, it ain’t that big a deal.’
“But he always tends to make a play coming back after he messes up.”
There’ve been some prime examples of that, usually ending with an opponent on the ice and the crowd raising up a low “oohhh.”
“He lines guys up at the right time and he just finishes them off,” Pyle said. “He’s not afraid, when he makes a mistake, to step up and take the body on the guy right after that. Like he did the other night, we were on the power play, he coughed it up the middle then ran the guy right over.
“It shows how much he’s stepped his game up and he’s going to get opportunities down the line.”
Tough, smart and incredibly well-rounded, Milam was a tremendous addition for the Gladiators, who play Greenville at home tonight.
Milam’s professional career actually started in Gwinnett, two years ago as a rookie out of Ferris State University. Milam made an impression immediately, getting called up to the American Hockey League three times that season and earning ECHL All-Star honors.
Two of his trips to the AHL were with Manchester and that organization liked his play so well, it signed him to a contract for the 2004-05 campaign. Last year, Milam played 42 games for the Monarchs and 19 for their ECHL affiliate in Reading, Pa.
But Manchester was going through a reorganization over the summer and Pyle got more than he bargained for with an innocent phone call.
Pyle just wanted to see how Milam was doing and ask him to talk to two fellow Ferris Staters Pyle was interested in bringing to Gwinnett.
“I just go, ‘What are you doing this summer?” Pyle said. “He goes, ‘Right now, I got nothing.’”
Pyle was surprised and quickly placed a call to Kevin Cheveldayoff, general manager for the Gladiators’ AHL affiliate in Chicago.
“I asked if he was interested in Troy Milam,” Pyle said. “He said, ‘Yeah I loved him last year in Manchester.’”
The Wolves made an offer and Milam didn’t wait around to see what was going to happen with Manchester.
“When Chicago offered me this two-way deal (with Gwinnett), Manchester was kind of waiting to get all their ducks in a row before they started to sign guys,” Milam said. “Then it came down to Chicago said, ‘Hey, we need to know.’
“I had an offer on the table and I didn’t want to wait and let it slip away.”
Milam went to Chicago’s training camp and was assigned to Gwinnett on Oct. 11, a couple says after the start of the AHL season.
Some players might have balked at being sent to the ECHL after spending most of the previous season in the AHL. Not Milam.
“He’s been great,” Pyle said. “We love him. Chicago loves him. I’m sure somewhere down the line, he’s going to get an opportunity there.
“But, no, he’s been great in every aspect. Attitude, leadership, work ethic, just the way he is has been perfect.”
In eight games for Gwinnett, Milam has played like a giant. His seven points are tops among the team’s defensemen. Pyle uses him without reservation on the power play and penalty kill.
Not surprisingly, though, Milam is the kind of guy who always sees room for improvement.
“I’m not quite playing at my best,” said the 25-year-old in a deep, gravelly voice better suited to a truck driver twice his age. “I feel like I’m kind of forcing a lot of plays and trying to do a little too much. You think you need to do more or you can do more and you don’t really need to at all.
“But we’re winning and things are going well, so that’s what really matters.”