Milic embracing season of new experiences

Photo: Jonathan Kozub

by Anthony Fusco | AHL On The Beat

The ability to embrace new experiences is a critical skill for Thomas Milic. No matter where the rookie netminder has played, whether it was Seattle in the WHL, Norfolk in the ECHL, Manitoba in the AHL or internationally for Canada, the goaltender is committed to using each unique bit of knowledge he gathers to grow as a player.

This season’s new experiences started right when the 20-year-old goaltender walked through the doors at Hockey for All Centre, the Winnipeg Jets’ practice facility, this fall. Milic’s first real “pro moment” came while attending his first NHL training camp.

“You see all these big-name guys on the Jets and Moose that you watched when you were younger,” Milic recalled. “It’s cool to surround yourself with guys like that and really feel like you belong in that group as well.”

Milic, the Jets’ fifth-round selection in the 2023 NHL Draft, took that early experience and kickstarted his professional career in the ECHL with the Norfolk Admirals. The netminder impressed immediately. He was named the ECHL Goaltender of the Week from Oct. 23-29 and went on to post a record of 11-3-3 alongside a 2.45 goals-against average, .908 save percentage and two shutouts. Milic was selected to participate in the 2024 ECHL All-Star Game for his efforts backstopping Norfolk.

The goaltender credits his first taste of professional success to always being open to learn.

“I think that every day that I’m here (in Manitoba) I’m learning something,” Milic explained. “Whether that be on a practice day or on a game day I feel like I’m absorbing so much and learning as I go. I’m just taking it day-by-day and trying to get something out of every day has really helped me.”

Success in the ECHL earned Milic a recall to Manitoba, which he subsequently turned into his first AHL victory on Nov. 17 in Belleville on the strength of 26 stops. A strong showing with Manitoba, coupled with another good stretch in Norfolk, saw Hockey Canada approach Milic with a new opportunity. The goaltender previously starred for Team Canada at the 2023 World Juniors, but this time he faced off against professionals in Davos, Switzerland, at the Spengler Cup.

“This is one of the tournaments I always grew up watching,” remarked Milic. “Around Christmas time, I always had World Juniors and Spengler Cup starting at the same time. I was fortunate enough to play in the World Juniors last year and then getting the nod for the Spengler Cup was pretty special.”

The AHL’s third-youngest netminder is once again between the pipes for the Moose and started seven of Manitoba’s past 10 games. Milic holds a 5-4-1 record to go along with a 2.77 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage through 12 contests. The Coquitlam, B.C., product credits much of the success to the many people who continue to back him.

“Just seeing the tremendous amount of support that I had from family, friends and even people that I didn’t know from back home that have been in my corner and who are still rooting for me is pretty special,” noted Milic. “It’s special realizing how many people are on my side and are supporting me no matter what I do.”

Working to help support Milic through the rigors of his first professional season is developmental goaltending coach Drew MacIntyre. From the moment Milic was drafted, MacIntyre was tasked with showing him the ropes and cultivating a relationship, one that Milic has come to both respect and rely on.

“Since the draft, we’ve had an incredible relationship,” noted Milic. “We text all the time and I love being here and working with him. We share a lot of philosophies towards the game and he’s just a great guy you can talk to about anything. I really have sort of a personal relationship beyond him being just my coach.”

With MacIntyre’s guiding presence, Milic has picked up a plethora of different lessons, one of the most important was learning the professional game.

“Drew has really taught me about the idea of being a pro,” said Milic. “Obviously there are a lot of things I have to learn and develop, different skills I need to pick up throughout the season. He’s really good at reminding me of little details and helping me to become more independent and really embracing the pro lifestyle and everything that comes with it.”

MacIntyre, who is himself a former Moose goaltender, witnesses firsthand the work Milic has put into the season, both on and off the ice.

“He’s a very smart goaltender,” MacIntyre said. “He’s extremely patient on his feet and that correlates into him reading the play well. He’s an undersized goalie in today’s game, but he’s fought that label hard and it’s made him better because his strengths have allowed him to overcome that challenge.”

MacIntyre suited up in 440 AHL games over his career can see similarities between himself and his pupil. However, MacIntyre more impressed with the differences between his game and Milic’s skill set.

“He’s more skilled than me for sure,” noted a laughing McIntyre. “He’s more patient on his feet. You combine all those things with his calm demeanor and his battle. He really battles and when he has to kick it into high gear, he can use his athleticism. His efficiency is very good.”

As Milic navigates his first professional season, one thing has been made abundantly clear. He’s committed to continuing to learn and develop into the best version of himself while chasing his dream of suiting up in the NHL.