June 28, 2012

Milner riding wave of confidence into B's development camp

By Jesse Connolly

Despite still being a few months shy of his 22nd birthday, Parker Milner – one of the seven NCAA invitees at this year’s Bruins Development Camp -- is referred to as a “late bloomer” in most hockey circles. 

BC goaltender Parker Milner allowed just two goals in four games during the NCAA tournament. (Dave Arnold Photography)

After being passed over at the NHL draft, Milner bided his time behind John Muse (East Falmouth, Mass.) during his first two seasons at Boston College, appearing in just eight contests during the 2010-11 campaign. After Muse graduated and turned pro, Milner was expected to be the go-to goaltender for Jerry York’s (Watertown, Mass.) squad, but a so-so start to his junior year put that in jeopardy.

From Nov. 26 to Jan. 21, Milner started just two of the Eagles’ 12 games, as York turned to senior Chris Venti (Needham, Mass.) and freshman Brian Billett (Brunswick, Maine). After seeing his squad drop a pair of games up in Maine, York put Milner back between the pipes. The move sparked a run for the ages.

Milner and the Eagles rattled off 19-straight wins from there on out, taking over first place in Hockey East, winning the league tournament, and storming through the NCAAs. They capped off their season with a 4-1 victory over Ferris State in the national championship game, as the program earned its third title in the last five seasons.

Throughout it all, Milner was simply magical. He posted three shutouts – two of which came in the NCAA tournament – and allowed just 21 goals over those 19 contests, stopping more than 96 percent of the shots he faced in the process.

“It’s something that I can finally kind of talk about,” Milner said of his magnificent junior season, which saw him start out with a 9-5-0 record only to finish 29-5-0. “It’s finally set in. It was an incredible experience. It’s tough to describe in words what it was like.”

Unless every last member of the Bruins’ brass had been living in a cave for the last few months, there was no way Milner couldn’t have shown up on their radar.

“After the season you get a few calls, and this was one of them,” Milner said when asked how his invitation to camp came about. “Obviously playing in Boston this was a great one to get invited to.”

After his red-hot run, the 6-foot-1 netminder has never been more confident in his game.

“Yeah, definitely,” said Milner, who ranked third in the nation in goals-against average (1.66) and second in save percentage (.937) in 2011-12. “It was a great season and I want to carry that to this camp and then onward to the future.”

Milner has a bit of a camp mentor in Tommy Cross (Simsbury, Conn.), who captained the Eagles to glory this spring and has appeared in all six of Boston’s development camps.

“It’s definitely helpful to have someone who’s been here a few times,” Milner said of Cross, a member of Boston’s 2007 draft class who made his pro debut with Providence in April. “I’m kind of new to this, so it’s nice to have someone take you around a little bit.”

In the midst of trying to learn the ropes, Milner is focused on taking advantage of the opportunity he’s been given to show what he’s made of.

“My goals are just to get better as a player and kind of show the Bruins who I am as a player and a person,” he said. “You just try to get better every day.”

After camp wraps up, Milner will begin preparing for his fourth and final season at the Heights, where he hopes to back-stop BC to a second-straight national championship.

“It’s a good momentum builder, being at something like this with such highly-skilled players,” Milner said of the boost he’ll receive from partaking in camp. “I hope to use this moving forward.”

Unless he takes a major step backwards next season, Milner will be one of the most sought-after free agents coming out of college hockey next year. The B's recent additions have given the team a surplus of netminders, but if BC’s late bloomer keeps getting even better, Peter Chiarelli and Co. would be wise to give Milner another call next spring.

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseNEHJ.