Justin Time: Milo Finds Fresh Start at Vermont
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
On March 22, Vermont's 2007-08 season ended just short of its first Hockey East championship, as the Catamounts fell to eventual national champion Boston College in the league final. Among those watching that game — and wishing for a chance to play — was redshirt sophomore Justin Milo, who sat out all of last season after transferring to Vermont from Cornell.
Now, Milo — a junior in school but a sophomore for NCAA hockey purposes — appears to be quickly making up for lost time.
Just three games into the season, the Minnesota native has scored three goals, already matching his total from a 24-game freshman campaign for the Big Red. Among his three goals are a tally against Rensselaer that was Vermont's first goal of the season (incidentally, Rensselaer was the last team against whom he had scored as a freshman, way back on Feb. 10, 2007) and last weekend's game-winner against Miami, which broke a 3-3 tie with just 4:20 remaining in the third period.
Milo also added a shootout "winner" in the Catamounts' second game against Miami, though the game will officially be recorded as a tie. Vermont is now 2-0-1.
Certainly, for Milo, getting back on the ice has been a long time coming.
"It's been a great start to the season," said Milo, who despite not playing last year was still named to the Hockey East All-Academic Team. "I'm really happy that the team is off to such a good start, and I feel fortunate to have been able to help. Last year, it was tough not being able to play, but it's just nice to finally be able to make an impact."
Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon was among those pleased by Milo's quick start, adding, "Justin's best attribute is his willingness to shoot the puck. As well, he has very good hockey sense so he knows how to put himself in scoring position."
Despite spending last season on the sidelines, Milo made sure to point out that he still felt part of the team the entire time. And his extended off-season mindset helped him prepare for a sophomore season that he's waited almost a year and a half to begin.
"I practiced with [the team] and went to the home games," said Milo. "The coaches and players were really very welcoming, and I just tried to make the most of my time by working on my skills and enjoying the time not worrying about games — just kind of rejuvenating myself so that this year I'm excited to play again and confident in myself."
Perhaps the most unique part of Milo's story, though, is that hockey is far from his only extracurricular activity. Aside from making an impact on the ice, he makes one in the batter's box for the Vermont varsity baseball team as well. Last season, as a left fielder and designated hitter, Milo was tied for third in the NCAA in triples, led the Catamounts in several offensive categories, and was named to the America East All-Conference Second Team.
For Milo, playing two sports has been a blessing — but a time-consuming one.
Explained Milo, "I've always played both sports growing up. Usually, I played baseball in the summer and hockey mostly just in the winter and fall. They didn't really overlap too much before college. But that's been the most difficult thing — just trying to work on both sports when sometimes they overlap and also school at the same time, trying to keep my grades up. But I enjoy it. I'd rather have a busy schedule than have time off, and I've been fortunate at Vermont. The coaches are really helpful, helping me plan my schedule and giving me the best chance to be successful in both sports.
"It's definitely time-consuming, but I'd rather have it that way. I'm not ready to give up one of the sports, at least at this point in my life."
Milo succeeded as a baseball player at Cornell, too. In fact, as a rookie, he batted .426 and was named to the All-Ivy League First Team, as well as to the Collegiate Baseball Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American Team.
Not surprisingly, the decision to transfer from Ithaca to Burlington was not an easy one.
"Cornell is a great, great, institution, and it was definitely a very tough decision, probably the toughest decision I've made in my life," said Milo, before adding with a laugh, "It was difficult leaving and thinking about the job opportunities I might be missing out on.
"But things just didn't work out completely with Cornell. I wasn't going to be able to play both hockey and baseball there, and I couldn't see myself doing that. I just figured it's more important for me to enjoy my time in college than to not be fully happy at Cornell."
Milo then continued more candidly about the circumstances leading to his change of scenery.
"There were a few issues with me and the hockey coach at Cornell," explained the sophomore, referring to Big Red head coach Mike Schafer. "It's just the way it was. It was a couple of different things. It wasn't just [an issue related to baseball]. But I had some good talks with the Cornell coach before leaving and really showed my appreciation for what they offered me my freshman year. It just wasn't the right place for me. It was unfortunate I wasn't able to see that before going there, but I was happy that I did go there. It was a great freshman year. I have a lot of great memories, but the right fit and best place for me is Vermont, and I'm glad I made that change."
Added Sneddon on the process of bringing Milo to Vermont, "We were involved with Justin in the recruiting process before he made the final decision to attend Cornell University. We did not have openings for Justin at that time, but we really liked him when he was playing in the USHL. When he obtained his release from Cornell, we were contacted about Justin's interest in transferring to Vermont. We did our research and felt Justin would be a great addition to our family here at the University of Vermont. Not only is he a great hockey player as well as baseball standout, but a very good student. We felt he would fit within our campus community very well."
Now, after moving to the Northeast, Milo — who also noted that his transition has been facilitated by the positive communication between Sneddon and baseball head coach Bill Currier — still has three years of NCAA eligibility for hockey, but only two for baseball.
And that's great news for him, as he strongly hints at which sport he cherishes the most.
Said Milo, "My passion has always been hockey, ever since I've been little. It's always been my favorite thing to do. The last bunch of years, I've been really successful with baseball too, and that's been nice and kind of at times changed my focus a little bit. But having a year off last year with no hockey really made me miss hockey, and I definitely appreciate it and enjoy it a lot more this year because of that."
Milo's campus surroundings have changed, but so have his surroundings on the ice. After playing as a left wing at Cornell, Milo has switched to playing center for the Catamounts.
And Sneddon likes what he's seen so far — of both transitions.
"He has fit in very well with our family," said Sneddon, now in his sixth year coaching Vermont. "He's a very polite young man who wants to get better everyday in practice. His teammates have enjoyed getting to know him, and he's done everything we've asked of him and more. I think once he feels even more confident with our style of play and the position he's playing, he will add even more offense."
Recalled Milo, "When I was talking to Coach Sneddon, he told me the plan, that while I was sitting out a year, that they would keep me motivated, not forget about me, and keep me really involved with the team. And he really kept his end of the deal. He kept me motivated, and I really enjoyed my year last year even though I wasn't playing in any games.
"And as far as the team is concerned, our group of guys at Vermont — we're very, very friendly, we're a very fun-loving team and we have a really good time. The guys here, as long as you work hard and put forth your best effort, they're going to accept you. It's been great, and I'm happy to finally get the chance to play with them."
Now, as Milo works towards earning an economics degree, while also juggling responsibilities to two varsity sports, the prospect of helping lead the Catamounts back to the Hockey East title game lies on the other side of the fast-approaching Burlington winter.
And Milo even took a moment to compare that wintry season in Vermont to his freshman experience in chilly central New York, saying, "They're pretty similar... but Vermont is probably colder."
In that case, it's a good thing for the Catamounts that Milo, back on the ice at last, may just be heating up.