MONTREAL- No one could have blamed Duncan Milroy for starting to think that this day would never come. But just over a week past his 24th birthday, his finally reaching the NHL was no accident.
After a couple of underachieving seasons with the Canadiens' AHL affiliate in Hamilton, Milroy's career was at a crossroads. And just in case he didn't realize it, head coach Don Lever drove the point home.
"We sat down at the end of last season and I told him that he had an important decision to make," said Lever, now in his second season at the helm in Hamilton. "His career was at a crossroads and he had to get serious about whether his future destination was the NHL or the East Coast Hockey League. We talked about the need for him to get stronger and improve his overall fitness level."
The message was heard loud and clear. The new and improved Milroy boasts a team-leading 23 goals and 52 points for the Bulldogs so far this season. Just prior to his call-up, the Edmonton native was rolling right along with 19 points in his last 15 games for the Bulldogs.
"Duncan spent eight weeks in St. Louis this summer with a personal trainer and the Milroy I saw arrive at training camp was a completely different player," admitted Lever. "He's leaner and more powerful than I had ever seen him before, and more importantly he was determined to be a leader and difference maker for us this year."
Milroy's summer boot camp proved to be exactly what the doctor ordered for his sputtering career.
"It was just time for me to stop horsing around and do whatever it took to get my game back on track," admitted Milroy. "My agent was the one recommended heading to a far away place like St. Louis and getting away from all distractions. It was a lot of hard work, but it's sure paying off.
"I had lost sight of what of what type of player I was," added the right winger. "I had hit a low point of my career and I knew that it was up to me to make some changes."
Milroy logged over 14 minutes of ice time in his NHL debut against the Hurricanes that saw him fire three shots on goal and even some power-play time. He also didn't have to introduce himself to linemates Maxim Lapierre and Alexander Perezhogin, both of whom played with Milroy with the Bulldogs.
The late-blooming Milroy was Montreal's third pick, 37th overall at the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. Milroy helped lead the Swift Current Broncos to the 2002 Memorial Cup, before moving on to Hamilton where he posted 14, 33, and 35-point campaigns before his torrid start to this season with the Bulldogs.
Despite Milroy's transformation coming on the heels of his little heart-to-heart with Lever at the end of last season, the Bulldogs' bench boss refuses to be pegged the catalyst for Milroy's newfound confidence.
"Duncan deserves all the credit. He's the one who made this happen," added Lever. "His mind is finally made up about where he wants to be and he's been great for us this year. I'm really proud of how far he's come and I wish him all the best."
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com