Massapequa's Sonny Milano starring for USA, projected first-round pick in NHL draft
There is a chance that some team will choose Sonny Milano of Massapequa in the first round of the 2014 NHL draft as part of a youth movement. They couldn't find a better candidate.
If anyone knows about going young, it is the left wing who had skates on his feet and a stick in his hands when he was a year-and-a-half old.
His parents tell him he was mesmerized by the ice when he used to go to Superior Ice Rink in Kings Park while his older sister took figure skating lessons. "They said I used to stand in awe, like I really wanted to be out there," he said.
So at 18 months, they let him go. Family legend says he put one in the net before he was 2. By the time he was 3, he was a grizzled hockey veteran whose photo appeared in Newsday while shooting pucks in the basement with his dad, Frank.
"My life has just been hockey ever since," said Milano, who is approaching 18 years old, is the high scorer (14 goals, 32 assists through Thursday) for the U.S. National Team Development Program's under-18 squad and recently committed to Boston College.
These days, he still stands in awe, as if he really wants to be out there on the rink -- an NHL rink.
Sure enough, in NHL Central Scouting's official midterm ratings, released Jan. 13, Milano was 16th among all draft-eligible forwards and defensemen in North America. He is classified as an "A"-level prospect, meaning he has a good shot at being a first-round pick this June.
"That's always nice, but it's early in the year," he said, having proved that it never is too early to get going.
That really is the credo for all of hockey. Unlike athletes in other sports who can develop in their own hometowns and then leave for college, hockey players head out into the world in their midteens. High schools don't have rinks and equipment, so the top stars leave for junior teams, often far from home.
Milano spent his freshman year on Long Island, at the Portledge School in Locust Valley, then left Massapequa at 15 to play for the Cleveland Barons. After a year there, he earned a spot with the national team, based in Ann Arbor, Mich. He lives with a host family and attends Pioneer High School, then practices and plays games in the United States Hockey League.
"It's awesome, waking up every day, knowing you're going to do what you love,'' he said. "It's hard living away from home, but just putting on that 'U.S.' crest is an honor. It's probably harder on the parents."
Caroline, his mother, can assure you that there is no "probably" about it. "When my daughter was 18 and went off to Colgate, 4 1/2 hours away, that was a hard one. But that was nothing compared to him leaving at 15," she said. "When he said he was going to the Midwest, I said, 'This was not part of the plan.'
"But going there and looking at the reality of it, I saw that this is what he wanted to do. He was passionate about it," she said.
Both parents saw it coming when he consistently played with older kids at Kings Park, when he stickhandled on his own while waiting on line during skating drills at team practices, when he went to Islanders games as a toddler with his dad (a season-ticket holder). They didn't hold it against Sonny when, in the eighth grade, he broke his laptop filming a video in the basement as part of the Bauer equipment company's nationwide contest.
In the video, which has drawn thousands of views on YouTube, Milano shows the remarkable hand-eye skills that have impressed scouts. At one point, he flips the puck from the blade of his stick to the handle and back. "They said whoever had the best video would get a pair of APX skates. And my skates were getting pretty old," he said.
Yes, he won. Now his skating could help him reach the big time, like the Islanders he idolized growing up: Tim Connolly, Zigmund Palffy, Jason Blake.
"He's a really humble kid. He doesn't like to hear any accolade, he gets embarrassed," his mother said. Still, it is hard not to know the good things hockey people are saying about him.
"Nothing is final, nothing has happened yet," Milano said.
That's true. He's still young.