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…