Cam Atkinson. Johnny Gaudreau. Sonny Milano. What do these three agile forwards have in common, aside from their abilities to control the ice with their supreme puck-handling and goal-scoring prowess?
Two of the three, Atkinson (2008 NHL Draft selection of the Columbus Blue Jackets and 2011 Hobey Baker award finalist) and Gaudreau (2011 NHL Draft selection of the Calgary Flames and 2014 Hobey Baker award winner), have donned the #13 sweater for the Boston College Eagles, one of the nation’s top NCAA hockey programs.
Milano (2014 NHL Draft first-round selection of the Columbus Blue Jackets) was set to continue the tradition this fall in Chestnut Hill. However, this third criterion is no longer a reality. Milano informed Boston College Eagles head coach Jerry York, the all-time leader in NCAA men’s ice hockey wins with 963, this past weekend that he will no longer fulfill his commitment to Boston College and will continue his hockey career with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League.
As a long-time Columbus Blue Jackets fan and a current Boston College student who radio broadcasts Boston College Eagles hockey, I have mixed feelings about this situation. I will offer my thoughts as a Blue Jackets fan and Boston College student independently, and will conclude with my perspective on the situation as a whole.
First, as a Boston College student, I am blessed with having a fantastic hockey program to support right in my backyard. Although the Eagles’ season ended abruptly with a disappointing 5-4 loss to Union College in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinal last year, there was much optimism to be had for the 2014-15 season, despite the departures of Gaudreau and fellow linemates and NHL draftees Kevin Hayes and Bill Arnold.
Gaudreau’s decision to forgo his senior year and pursue an NHL contract with the Calgary Flames left the deepest hole to fill in the roster, as he scored an NCAA-high 36-44-80. Little hope was lost, though, because all Boston College fans knew that the forthcoming arrival of Sonny Milano in the fall was surely to make up for the loss of Gaudreau’s incomparable talent. Milano, a highly touted prospect coming out of the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP), had verbally committed to play for the University of Notre Dame until he notified Coach York in November 2013 of his decision to play for the Eagles. With much of last year’s talent no longer on the Eagles’ roster this season, Milano was expected to be one of their top players in 2014-15.
I came across a comment on Twitter about Milano’s change in commitments that sparked some curiosity. The tweet, from @ysuindy, stated, “Coach York and Boston College had no trouble taking [Milano] after he committed to Notre Dame,” and inquired as to why they are surprised Milano decided to again withdraw his commitment to Boston College. I see this as a bit of a different situation.
Milano was verbally committed to Notre Dame and notified both schools last November of his decision to attend Boston College instead. This allowed Notre Dame sufficient time to make roster adjustments in preparation for the 2014-15 season. On the other hand, after spending most of the summer assuring the media that he planned to fulfill his commitment to Boston College in the fall, Milano notified Coach York just this past Saturday, August 16, less than two weeks before he was to report to campus, of his decision to pursue the OHL.
It doesn’t seem fair to equate both of these decommitments, mainly because of the short notice Milano gave Boston College. It is one thing to have a player cancel his verbal commitment to play for a collegiate team eleven months before the season is set to begin. It is another to notify the program you are committed to of your decision to pursue another path just days before your expected arrival to campus.
Although the Boston College Eagles will surely miss the talent and excitement Milano was expected to bring to their roster, Milano appears to have his interests aligned with the most suitable path to the NHL, which is what Columbus Blue Jackets fans should ultimately be focused on.
As a Blue Jackets fan, I am going to trust Sonny Milano with his decision to play for the Plymouth Whalers in the OHL. Playing in the OHL, as opposed to playing collegiate hockey, will allow Milano to focus all of his attention on hockey, which will be crucial in his development as an NHL-caliber player. While many NCAA-bred NHL players are happy with the paths they took, college is not for everyone, especially if you are a first-round NHL Draft pick looking to maximize your potential to play professional hockey.
The OHL has some distinct benefits, most notably the 68-game schedule, which amounts to almost twice the amount of games NCAA teams play. This rigorous schedule will allow Milano to develop his skills at a much quicker pace and to concentrate on hockey alone. Also, having played for the USNTDP, he already has experience playing against NCAA programs and USHL teams alike. Milano is an asset who adds skill to the already talented Blue Jackets prospect pool, and it will be fun watching him develop as a player in the OHL.
What does this mean for Blue Jackets fans? As much as we want Milano to succeed in his current path to the NHL, we can’t put all of our eggs in one basket. As I mentioned, the Blue Jackets have an exciting group of young prospects that goes far beyond Milano alone. At 18 years old, he sure has a lot of growing to do as a person and as a player.
What are your thoughts on Sonny Milano’s decision to forgo his commitment to Boston College to play for the Plymouth Whalers? Feel free to comment below or tweet me at @ScottGeyman.