It was just a year ago when a lot of people were starting to give up on Parker Milner. Gone was the promise that he showed in two years as the backup and heir apparent to All-American John Muse. Everyone watched as he gave up three late goals in a 4-3 loss to underdog UMass, as he admitted five goals in a public thrashing by rival BU and as he let a "shoulda-had-it" shot slip past with two seconds to go to lose in overtime at Notre Dame. He was giving up easy goals. He couldn't control his rebounds. Shots bounced out of his catching glove. And Milner was exiled to the far end of the Boston College bench, all but forgotten.
So, how did he, just two months later, return from his banishment to lead his team to 19 straight victories and a national championship, with records established for the highest save percentage and the lowest goals-against-average in the national tournament, all-tournament honors in the NCAA and Hockey East tournaments and the MVP award for the NCAAs? And how did it continue into this season, with his team ranked number one in the country and with Milner making even the most difficult saves look routine?
"He worked at it," says Jim Logue, the legendary BC goalie who at age 73 has been coaching Eagle goaltenders for the past 20 years, through Scott Clemmensen, Cory Schneider, Muse and, now, Milner. "In addition to regular practices he has been regularly meeting with us Wednesday mornings on the ice, with (coaches) Greg Brown and Mike Cavanaugh and four or five other players who are the shooters. We have all worked to help him get better. And, he has bought into this approach."
Logue has always emphasized that Milner had to soften his midsection for shots into his body and now you can see him regularly fold around those kind of shots. "And we worked hard on improving his pushing off from one side to the other. He used to get to his feet too often. And he was playing out too far and this left him open to getting beat back door. Now he stays back more and he is big enough to fill the net playing that way," Logue said.
Does Milner agree with his coach?
"It wasn't that I suddenly got good," Milner answered. "I think I was a work in progress. Repetition of the physical parts of the game gives you the confidence that you can get through it. I've always tried to do the right things and get a little better each day. Once you get to this level everyone has the physical skills. I think that where you can really transform your game is the mental aspect. I haven't changed all that much, but I've really worked on that. I was sticking with what I was doing and I was waiting for it to click.
"I don't know if it was a lack of concentration, but I think I had some sort of mental block. I just kept working through it. And I've always had good coaching, here at BC, back home in Pittsburgh, at Avon Old Farms and at Waterloo (USHL)," he added.
Milner has his own way of rating his performance.
"I try not to be a flashy goalie," he said. "I know when I have a good game. It's different than what other people see. For instance, I could create a lot of extra saves for myself and that might look a lot better statistically, but if you can control your rebounds you can actually prevent five or ten shots every game. For instance, I was much happier with the Notre Dame performance (19 saves) than I was with the BU performance the next night (25 saves.) I made fewer saves, but it was a much cleaner effort on my part."
So how did Milner get to be a goalie? It's not the position of choice for most kids.
"My family had more of a football background, but when they moved to Pittsburgh they became Penguins fans" he said. "I've been going to Penguins games since I was 18 months old. I started skating when I was three, I began playing hockey when I was five and I started playing goalie when I was seven or eight. There was something about the equipment that I liked at first. The more and more I played, the more and more I enjoyed the pressure. I realized that the goalie is the last line of defense."
Milner didn't become a star player immediately. "I had a lot of struggles as I got older. I was quite short for awhile (he is 6'1" now) and I was not always the best goalie around. It wasn't until I left Pittsburgh that I really started to get noticed (prep school and juniors.)
Milner didn't even expect to be in his senior year at BC so soon. "I had already graduated from high school in Waterloo and I was getting ready for another year in juniors. Then I got recruited real quick," he said. "A couple of other schools were interested in me but they were nothing that I could have jumped at that time. I was planning on taking another year in juniors.
"Then John Muse had surgery and they needed a guy right away. When BC calls you listen real closely to what they have to say. So here I am."
With the improvement he has shown in the past 10 months, it is most likely that Milner's hockey career will extend past this season, although if it doesn't, he has other plans. He is a marketing major in the Carroll School of Management. "I am exploring different branches of finance," he explained. "My father is a portfolio manager of the real estate section of a financial company. That might be something that I would be interested in."
Or, he could become a pro hockey player. He was never drafted by the NHL, so he would be a free agent next spring. "Hopefully after a strong season it will work itself out," he says. "Maybe I will get to sign a two-way deal with an NHL team. I won't worry about that until it happens. When I'm 50 I see myself being involved in finance, maybe coaching my kid's hockey team. I love hockey, but I see myself doing something else."
He humbly plays down the fact that he is a big man on the BC campus. "I try not to be," he said. "We all try to be small around the campus. Be humble and go about our business. I like to be treated like a normal student." (He has a girlfriend and drives around in a 13 year old car a BMW 740.)
As for now, Milner will continue the hard work which has brought his game to this level. Seven days a week and those Wednesday mornings on the ice are especially hard on a goalie, and not just because of Kevin Hayes' shot ("he's the hardest to stop on the team because he disguises where it is going".) "My hips are always sore from the butterfly," he said. "I definitely spend a lot of time in the trainer's room."
Sounds tough, but for the goalie and for all BC fans the training room is a much better place for Milner to be for than a seat on the end of the bench.
OVERTIME: Milner is one of the leaders of the Toys for Kids drive to collect Christmas gifts to be donated to Boston Children's Hospital. This season donations of wrapped toys can be made at the Dartmouth game (November 24) and at the BU game (December 1.) "The team has visited the hospital several times and it made quite an impression on me," he said.
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