By Christine Troyke
Gwinnett Daily Post
DULUTH, Ga. – Figuring out what to call Jamie Milam hasn’t been easy.
When he arrived this season, there was some debate as to his nickname. Generally, none of the players go by their first names, only a bastardized version of their surname. Jamie’s older brother, Troy, wore a Gladiators’ jersey for the better part of two seasons.
Troy was ‘Milo’ and in order to avoid confusion in conversation, it seemed Jamie would need a different moniker. ‘J-Mo’ was an early front-runner, but as the season got going – and without Troy in Gwinnett to confuse the issue – it really just ended up as Milo.
Now it’s just hard to know whether to call him a defenseman or a forward.
He began the season here as a defenseman, but in recent weeks has been taking his regular shifts at forward.
Initially, Milam was paired with Mike Vigilante and Andy Contois. Then, following a deal at the trade deadline last week, Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle reshuffled his lines and put Milam with the ECHL’s top two scorers, Brad Schell and Scott Mifsud.
“When you’re asked to do something, you try to do it the best possible way you can,” Milam said. “The past couple months I’ve been playing forward, with good guys, good players.
“It’s not hard to do well when you’re playing with guys with speed and all you really have to do is get them the puck and skate down the ice.”
Milam’s 41 points rank him seventh among both active Gwinnett players and ECHL defensemen (assuming he’s still considered one). Milam had a goal in last Sunday’s win in Charlotte, pushing his season total to 20.
“What coach needed from me was just to be third guy high, help out defensively and play smart,” Milam said. “When you’re doing that, it seems like scoring is a lot easier.”
The versatile Michigan native said he doesn’t have a preference for where he plays.
“Whatever the team needs,” Milam said. “Forward is a lot easier on your mind, but defense is a lot easier on your body.”
The 22-year-old is no stranger to both sides of the blue line. He was recruited to play at Northern Michigan University as a defenseman, but after two years was moved to forward.
“My junior year we had a lot of defensemen,” said Milam, who like his brother has a wicked slap shot and gravely voice. “So they said, ‘You’re offensive, maybe you can go play some forward.'”
For his final two years, he played both forward and defense. Milam had his best point production as a senior, collecting 29 points in 40 games. He was named the team’s most improved player and carried that into a successful stint with Fort Wayne of the United Hockey League.
Joining Fort Wayne at the end of his collegiate career, Milam had nine points in eight regular-season games and three points in five playoff games.
“I fit in as a forward there really easily,” Milam said.
He was recruited as a blueliner by Pyle, a fellow Northern Michigan alum. His transition back to defense at the pro level wasn’t smooth.
Milam struggled at the start of this season, making mental mistakes that left him out of position defensively.
“You need to mature to pro hockey and there’s a lot of growing with these first-year kids,” Pyle said. “They play like it’s a hobby and it takes them a long time to understand that it’s a great living, you should have a little more respect for it.
“Once they learn the work ethic, the simple things like being consistent, to me that’s when they start progressing.”
Milam said he was nervous when he got here because he hadn’t played defense in two years.
“I was trying to force myself to learn defense all over again,” he said. “Finally, I figured out that I didn’t have to do anything extra, all I had to do was be sound and play smart.”
Milam has made great strides and his versatility is a great asset for Pyle who has been, at intervals, short on both defensemen and forwards.
“He’s done a great job of playing forward, done a great job of playing ‘D’ for us,” Pyle said. “My only problem with him was early, where he would work himself into a bit of a frenzy, for no reason, always thinking he had to do more.”
He was trying to do too much and ended up doing less in the process.
“Sometimes your head’s just not going at the pace you need it to be,” Milam said. “You have all the skills and the abilities, but your head keeps you out of it somehow. That’s what I needed to get over. I thought I wasn’t a defenseman. Once I got that out of my head, I was OK.”