Frank Milano had to pull over his car, overcome with emotion and just a little bit of wonderment. Here was his son, all of 19 years old, telling him news he couldn’t quite process.
Sonny Milano was going to play in his first NHL game.
Against the Islanders.
“It was very hard for me to talk to him,” said Frank, who was a season-ticket holder for about five years when the Islanders played at Nassau Coliseum and has a makeshift shrine to the team in his basement. “I couldn’t drive for a little while. I was just so crazy . . . I’m telling you, it’s surreal. It’s the most amazing thing.”
Sonny played 13:26 for the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 4-3 loss to the Islanders on Thursday night, two years after getting selected in the first round of the NHL Draft (16th overall). In doing so, he brought a veritable army of support to Brooklyn.
Frank said he expected hundreds of friends to come to the game, and the front of the VIP entrance at Barclays Center doubled as a sort of family reunion for the Milano family of Massapequa. Sonny’s young cousins were there, with their “NY Loves Sonny” posters. Friends embraced as they emerged from the LIRR.
“I was on the train,” Frank said, “and I was like, I know everybody.”
The left winger, who attended the Portledge School in Locust Valley for one year, left home to play for a youth hockey team in Cleveland and then made his way into the AHL. He started on the second line Thursday night with Alexander Wennberg and Brandon Saad. In 48 games with Lake Erie in the AHL this season, he had 12 goals and 15 assists.
Before the game, Sonny acknowledged nerves, but he didn’t expect them to last for all that long.
“It’s pretty much a dream come true, so it’s awesome,” he said. “I just didn’t even know how to react [when he got the news]. I was just in awe. I just told my parents and they were loving it as well, and it was just a great time.”
Frank had his Blue Jackets windbreaker on — “I hope the Islanders do well, but not tonight,” he said — and his wife, Caroline, was all smiles. That is, when they weren’t trying to hold back tears.
“We’re just so happy,” Caroline said. “Just so happy. We want him to be happy and do well . . . He’s worked really hard and we’re just so, so proud of him. It’s so wonderful to have all our family and friends.”
Sonny said he went to Islanders games all the time as a child. He had a poster of Ziggy Palffy in a room. His superfandom waned when his hockey dreams took over in earnest, but he said he was fully aware of whom he’d be facing when he was called up.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “It’s definitely a great experience for sure. All of my family is in town . . . I wouldn’t be worried about [facing his childhood team]. I’m just going to be worried about my game. It’s my first NHL game, so I don’t think that’s going to cross my mind at all.”
The Milanos sacrificed plenty to help their son realize his dream, and Sonny has worked relentlessly. Frank said he is “so proud of the man he is,” choking up. “The sacrifice is so worth it.”
This week, he said, “is probably the best week of my life.” His daughter, Brittany, was just accepted to Yale Law School. And now this.
“My son got brought up to the NHL,” he said, still a little bit awed at both his children’s accomplishments. “If I had to live out my life in a cardboard box, I’d die a happy man.”