Late bloomer Connor Milburn has snared what essentially boils down to a full-ride hockey scholarship to NCAA Division One Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
“I can’t even put it into words,” said Milburn, speaking to KTW from his billet house in Chilliwack, where he plays for the junior A Chiefs in the B.C. Hockey League. “It means that all the time I could have been doing other stuff, when I focused my time into hockey, it means it has all paid off. It means the world to me.”
Nothing has been handed to Milburn, except perhaps a seven-inch growth spurt that began about four years ago.
The no-longer-diminutive, 6-foot-4, 180-pound forward was not on the WHL Bantam Draft radar in 2016.
Milburn, a Kamloops Minor Hockey Association product, toiled in the tier 2 ranks during his 13-year-old campaign before joining the tier 1 bantam club the next season.
“Honestly, I didn’t even really know too much about it [the draft] because I had no interest from WHL teams,” Milburn said.
“You’ve got to work for what you get. I was a smaller kid in midget. I knew the growth spurt was going to come. I didn’t know I was going to get this tall and this big, but I knew it was going to come and I had to keep my head down and keep working.”
Milburn progressed throughout his midget career, moving from tier 2 to tier 1 and, finally, to the major midget Thompson Blazers in 2018-2019, when he racked up 14 goals and 29 points in 25 games.
Carter Cochrane, Thompson’s head coach in 2018-2019, said Milburn’s path is a great example for players in Kamloops not highly touted out of bantam.
“Guys who didn’t really come into their own until 16, 17,” Cochrane said. “At that time, that’s when the Western league has passed you by a little bit. Connor is a tremendous student. He’s going to handle the college route with school and hockey extremely well. I’m just so happy for him and proud of him.”
Milburn, a left shot, tallied six goals and eight points in 25 regular season games for the Chiefs last season, his rookie campaign in the BCHL.
“He has worked himself into being a very important part of our lineup,” Chiefs’ head coach and general manager Brian Maloney said in a press release. “He does a lot of the little things that allow your team to succeed in all three zones. Connor is a quiet leader that has a great attitude toward the game and his teammates. We couldn’t be more proud.”
Milburn, who has the option to begin his career at Lake Superior either next year or in 2022, noted Cochrane and hometown coaches Darcy Kaban, Darcy Erichuk and Kevin Johnson had a hand in his hockey upbringing.
“It didn’t surprise me one bit that he got this look this early,” Cochrane said. “He’s got unlimited potential moving forward at his size and the way he thinks the game. It’s a great example for younger players in Kamloops to see guys like him, who might not have been on the radar as much. There is still a great opportunity to have success later on in your junior career.”