Thomas Milic, the U20 ice hockey goaltender of Croatian descent has emerged out of nowhere to lead his Canadian side to a IIHF World Junior Championship gold medal, all the while earning praise from hockey supporters across Canada as an instrumental piece to the victory.
After being passed upon in the last two NHL drafts, Milic remains undrafted and not eligible for the 2023 NHL draft, however, he is currently considered an undrafted free agent and may be signed by any NHL team.
Thomas Milic, son of Joe and Stephanie Milic, is considered a bit undersized for the standard professional goalie. Standing at 6 feet and 174 lbs, Milic possesses impressive speed and agility in the crease. His athletic ability makes up for his lack in size, and his mental game is most impressive. His WHL playoff run with Seattle in 2022 and this World Junior tournament, where he stepped up to the plate, took the starting spot, and performed, proved his mental resilience and capability to handle high pressure situations.
This season in the WHL, Milic holds an impressive .922 save percentage in 15 games, and in last year’s playoffs, a .925 in 25 games, proving his incredible consistency as of late.
Going into the tournament, despite the unbelievably talented core of Canadian players consisting of generational talent Connor Bedard, NHL proven Dylan Guenther, and 2022 World Junior’s top defenceman Olen Zellweger, analysts considered Canada’s only question mark to be in the goaltending position. Thomas Milic was in fantastic form with his WHL club, the Seattle Thunderbirds, however he remains undrafted. Benjamin Gaudreau, the other goaltender, has had a disappointing campaign in the OHL this season after having been drafted in the 3rd round of the 2021 NHL Draft.
Canada opened up the tournament versus Czechia, a resilient, and potentially dangerous opponent. However, anything but victory would be disappointing. Benjamin Gaudreau got the start, and it took just 17 shots in two periods of play for the Czechs to hold a 5-2 lead over Canada. Thomas Milic was substituted in for the remainder of the game, making 10 saves on 10 shots and keeping the score at 5-2 as Canada would eventually go on to lose their opening match.
Rewarding his solid display, Canadian coach Dennis Williams started Milic in game two versus Germany. The Canadian team learnt from their loss and pummeled the poor Germans 11-2. Superstar Connor Bedard ran the show with three goals and four assists, but Thomas Milic also did his part in making 14 saves on 16 shots. Not his best performance of the tournament, but nevertheless, very solid.
Game three was against tournament punching-bags Austria, and Williams gave Gaudreau the start. He faced just twelve shots in a 11-0 Canada win.
Game four, the final game of the preliminary round on New Year’s Eve, featured a heavyweight tilt between Canada and Sweden. Milic was given the start in this important match-up, meaning he is now most likely the starting goalkeeper for the rest of the tournament. In what was expected to be a close battle, Canada ran over their Swedish adversaries, scoring 3 within the first ten minutes of the match resulting in a 5-1 Canadian victory. Milic was phenomenal, saving 22 of 23 shots against, including an unbelievable stretch save in which he lifted his pad off the ice while doing the splits to frustrate the Swedish forward. View the clip below to see the save.
Canada’s quarter final opponents proved to be more difficult than anticipated. The Slovaks gave them a run for their money, as it took a magical display of individual talent from generational player Connor Bedard to win the game in overtime. This match was the classic “Battle of the Goaltenders” as Milic and Gajan were frustrating opponents on both ends of the ice all game long. Milic finishes the match with 24 saves on 27 shots, an underwhelming statistic of .889 save percentage that definitely does not do the young Croatian-Canadian goalkeeper justice in terms of how incredible his performance was.
Milic’s statement game was when Canada faced their ultimate rivals, the USA, in the semi-finals. The Americans came flying out of the gate, scoring the first two goals of the game and posting up an incredibly high number of shots in the first period. In just 10 minutes, the Americans already recorded 13 shots, breathing down Milic’s net in what seemed to be one-sided dominance. However, Milic proved resilient, got his head back in the game, and shut the door for the remaining 50 minutes of the match. Canada recouped well to win the game by 6 goals to 2. Thomas Milic was the obvious player of the game as he saved 95.6% of the shots he faced. 43/45. Incredible numbers. Watch the match highlights below to see just some of the incomprehensibly talented saves he made. (4:27, 5:41, 9:04)
Canada faces Czechia in the final, earning the opportunity to avenge their upsetting game one loss. Another goaltending battle highlighted this match as Thomas Milic and Tomas Suchanek went head to head. Canada commanded the game and all looked well with 8 minutes remaining in the third period as they held a 2-0 lead. Within a minute, two Czech goals tied the game up at 2-2 as they finally broke the wall put up by Milic, and it took a rebound goal and deflection to do so. Canada wins it in overtime thanks to multiple game-saving stops from Milic and a beautiful Dylan Guenther goal. Milic finished the match with 24 saves on 26 shots.
Milic saves at (3:10, 3:40, 7:10, 10:10)
Due to his incredible performance at the tournament, expect NHL teams to come knocking on Thomas Milic’s door for a signature. Croatian genes have been very present in hockey history as some of the NHL’s greatest ever players are of Croatian descent, such as legends Joe Sakic and Frank Mahovlich. Can Thomas Milic be the first goaltender of Croatian descent to become an NHL superstar?
When asked his thoughts on hearing the Halifax crowd erupt and chant his name, Thomas Milic’s reply is quite heartwarming…
Watch how the crowd chants Milic’s name before Canada’s player of the game award is presented after the match against the United States…
Nobody may remember but there was John Kordic- they could have made a Netflix movie on this guy and his life- tragic ending but what a bruiser he was. Played for Montreal and Toronto.
Markus, great write up as always.
The Bale retirement is perfect timing just before our qualifier with Wales in March. Hvala Gareth!
100 percent agree
Great Write up!
Wales could give us some problems
But overall this was probably the end of the height of their golden generation with qualifying for the World Cup
Correct me if I’m wrong tho
Looks like stipe Biuk just spooked gareth bake in to retirement 😉……
I had a dream that Biuk had a great debut and scored a couple goals.
Has there ever been a more amazin, accomplished but at the same time let down as a player as gareth bale?
Guy scored some big time goals but retiring at 33?
I guess he just doesn’t have the fire anymore or maybe he is injured
Good for young man “buick” the Americanized version for more playing time
33… man I wish king luka was that age
We have many hockey contributions from Croatian Canadians. Sakic, Mahovlich brothers, Horvat, Vlasic, Willie Mitchell who is half on his mothers side, and Sarich. Doesn’t come as a shock that Raffi Torres or Milan Lucic are both dirty chetniks on the ice.
Ya, I don’t follow hockey but I remember a lot of diaspora Croats contributing to hockey.
Mark Pavelich from the Rangers was a big one, winning a gold medal for the US. They made a movie (called Miracle) about it with Kurt Russell.
There was also Tony Hrkac from the Islanders I remember. Lots more.
But this is just an extension to how many American (and Canadian and Australian) sports athletes in general there were that were of Croatian descent.
Boxing, MMA, Hockey, Basketball, Soccer, Football…all have a lot of them. You could argue Canada’s and Australia’s best-ever athletes in certain disciplines were all Croats, with names like Bogut, Viduka, Sakic, Chuvalo, on these lists.
People don’t realize that many NBA Hall of Famers were Croats or half-Croats, like Kevin McHale, John Havlicek, Rudy Tomjanovich, George Mikan. Insanely impressive list.
Then you have those ones in just a random sport (like Fred Couples in golf) and it makes you laugh.
I heard he grabbed the microphone after the gold medal win, and tried to start a Za Dom Spremni chant
Lmaoo imagine..the whole arena just tilting their heads hearing the chant.
Are both parents hrvati, or just the dad??
Not sure, but it’s nice that they pronounce his name as Mili-ich.
His mother is not of Croatian descent, but neither is my mother-in law; however, she learned Croatian in night school. Given that Hockey Canada / TSN were informed to pronounce the surname Milic the Croatian way, I would she is an adopted Croatian.
She’s a housewife though.
That’s usually a telltale sign that she’s Croatian, haha.
Once I found out that Canada had a Croatian goalie (on this forum) I watched all the remaining games…exciting stuff.
Thanks for the info 👍
Great article Markus! I wasn’t able to watch any of the tournament but felt I got all the important information in a 5-minute read.
Any chance Milic gets picked up by an NHL team in the next year?
There’s a chance someone drafts him. However, out of the last 9 gold medal-winning goalies for Canada, only 2 have become starters in the NHL and 1 a back-up. Most don’t tend to make it. But, hopefully things work out for him.
**Signs him. Didn’t see he was no longer draft eligible.
Seattle Kraken have invited him to their pre-season camp, so my guess is that there is a place for him in their system- perhaps on their farm team in the AHL?
If he chooses to grind it out in the lower leagues, and he consistently continues to prove himself, he could end up in the NHL.
The problem with Pro and Semi-pro teams is that they love huge goalies, and despite not performing as well as some of the smaller goalies, they get drafted. They believe that there is a chance to train a big goalie to become better / really effective. However, size can’t be taught, and the smaller guys have to continuously prove that they have not hit a plateau, and that they can become more effective at every higher level they get to.
Milic has earned the equivalent of a full ride scholarship in the WHL (once he is done, probably 5-6 years of expenses paid to the college / university of his choice, and I believe it gets lost if you play any level pro team.
He will have a big decision to make.
Jonathan Quick 🙂
He is built like a true Lican! Bravo Thomas.