EAST LANSING, Mich — Last season, Spartan forward Cody Milan had just five points all year (one goal and four assists). In just 10 games this season, Milan has doubled his production with most of his points coming on the power play.
“A lot of it is guys around me, they’ve been making a lot of plays. It definitely helps being on the power play,” Milan said. “But again, I go back to the confidence in my mindset going into every practice and every game.”
If you were to make short list of the players impacted by the arrival of Danton Cole and his staff, Milan would be near the top of that list. The Junior from White Lake, Mich. found confidence hard to come by his first few seasons in East Lansing. He was in and out of the lineup and he often wondered what role the coaching staff wanted him to fill.
When Cole was hired back in April, he had a private meeting with Milan where the young forward asked Cole what role he could play, offensive or defensive.
Cole’s response was somewhat unexpected, but left a lasting effect.
“He said not to label myself as one specific thing, he wanted me to be everything. He wanted me to be an offensive guy, a defensive guy, a hard-nosed skilled [player],” Milan said. “It gave me confidence. I felt confident after the meeting and the whole summer leading into it. Just trying to focus my mindset, my confidence, positive outlook on things and I think that has really helped me this year.”
Early returns tend to back up Milan’s assessment. He is third in team scoring and one of the many weapons used on the Spartans’ improved power play.
“It’s definitely fun, something I didn’t get the opportunity to do the past couple of years and now that I’m in it I’ve definitely taken advantage of it,” Milan said. “Especially working with the guys who are on the power play, they’re all skilled guys and have great vision so it makes it a lot of fun out there.”
Obviously it helps when playing with skilled players like freshman Mitch Lewandowski who is one of the leading freshman scorers in the nation. But Milan has a specific skill on the back-door that makes him a valuable asset to the first-team power play unit.
“He [Milan] works on one-timers so he get’s the shot off and that just generates so much [more] opportunities to get pucks on net and he does a really good job at that,” Lewandowski said.
It takes a special awareness to be able to find the open ice for a back-door play.
More often than not, Milan finds those open areas. But he was never as wide open as he was last Saturday against Wisconsin. While on the power play, Milan was left wide open near the right post while both Badger defenders had drifted toward the left side. Sophomore forward Taro Hirose tossed a no-look pass right to Milan who only had to redirect the puck into a wide open net.
That goal would end up being the game winner in a 2-0 shutout of the No. 7 Badgers.
Last weekend was an important milestone for Milan as it was his first weekend with goals in back-to-back nights. Such a milestone is a testament to his improved game and Cole has taken notice.
“Cody’s been great, he’s probably been one of our most consistent performers, and on the power play that’s the obvious thing, he fits over there. We needed a right handed shot and he has really good puck skills and he can shoot a puck so we tried him over there and that seems to be working really well for him.”
Milan’s presence extends beyond the power play to the second line. He has been a constant presence on the right side along with sophomores Sam Saliba and Logan Lambdin. That line is one Michigan State wants to get going in order to provide more depth below the KHL Line.
But Milan has certainly been pulling his weight as a top-six forward.
“Just five-on-five, he’s done a real nice job on the right side,” Cole said. “He’s gotten pucks out, he’s gotten pucks in. He’s not a kamikaze running around out there but he does play physical. He’s a real smart player and I think he’s got confidence in all 200 feet of his game right now.”
Confidence. That‘s the key word, and probably the biggest instant impact that the new coaching staff has had on this young team in improving their individual performances.
It certainly has been the case for Milan.
“I just think they haven’t put, really, too much pressure on me,” Milan said. “ They just want me to go out there and have fun and play my game and not worry about making mistakes.”
Confidence is one of the biggest intangibles in any sport, it works the same on a team level as the individual level. Confidence was one of the many challenges of past few years for Milan.
“Everyone wants to win now, not that everyone didn’t want to win before but, I mean the results weren’t there,” Milan said.
Now, the results are starting to show and the confidence is growing. As a team, the Spartans are more determined than ever to win games and the confidence in the future is as clear as day.
“Things have been going really well, still not obviously where we want to be, it’s still early in the season. But I think if we can have another productive few months here I think that we’ll be in a great spot,” Milan said.