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Milano takes next step, begins pro career in Springfield

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

ST. LOUIS, MO -- Three hours away from Columbus and playing in the Ontario Hockey League, not even Sonny Milano could avoid the weirdness that is the Blue Jackets’ injury situation.

On what would be his final weekend with the Plymouth Whalers before joining the Springfield Falcons and starting his pro career, Milano suffered a minor oblique injury that was feared to keep him from making his debut for about a week.

And the beat goes on, right?

With the Falcons in a fight for their playoff lives as the regular season hits its final stretch, they got a bit of good news when Milano was deemed fit to play Friday night vs. Worcester.

Milano wasted no time making an impact, either; he connected with Luke Adam on a beautiful passing play that opened the scoring for Springfield.

The result was not a positive one for Springfield, though, dropping a 6-3 final in a pivotal game against the Sharks, who now have command of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a few games in hand.

“We didn’t make the playoffs (in Plymouth), so we didn't get what we wanted,” Milano told BlueJackets.com. “Obviously, coming here, this is a team that’s also in a big playoff push and I’m excited to jump on board and be part of that. We’re right there, so it’s going to be fun.”

It was a trying season for Milano and the Whalers, who had high hopes with an infusion of offensive talent in the offseason. Injuries mounted, though, and it was difficult for the Whalers to keep pace with the rest of the conference. Adding to the disappointment was that this was the Whalers’ final season in Plymouth, as the franchise has been sold and is moving to Flint to become the Firebirds next fall.

“It was pretty tough, to be honest,” Milano said of his first OHL season. “We didn't have the success that we were looking for as a team and we dealt with a lot of injuries that made it tough, too. We started pick it up toward the end of the season, but in the end, we came up just a bit short.

“Our last game in that arena, the place was packed and loud and it was a great final game there. Unfortunately we didn't have the season we wanted to, and that’s the disappointing thing.”

On a personal note, though, Milano had a solid rookie season in the OHL with 68 points in 50 games. Though he’s not yet 20 years old, he is eligible to play full-time in the American Hockey League next season if the Blue Jackets determine it’s his best path for development.

Milano feels he’s ready for the next step, but at the same time, knows there is more development ahead for him as he looks to round out his game at both ends of the rink.

“I know I still have to work on my defensive game,” Milano said. “I’ve put a lot of work in and I think it’s coming along, but you can always be better. I have to keep working at it. One of the helpful things when I came to Plymouth was that I was put in an offensive role right away and they expected a lot of me and my line. Overall though, I think strengthening my game in my own zone is something to keep focusing on.

“(The Blue Jackets and Falcons) just want me to play my game and do the things that have brought me success so far. I think if I keep doing that and get better at the things I’ve been working on, I can help the team — and that’s my goal.”

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