ANAHEIM – Sonny Milano played only six games for the Ducks last season, the last against the St. Louis Blues at Honda Center on March 3. He recorded zero goals, zero assists and only eight shots on target, while playing an average of 14:44 per game as ducks locked him in for the rest of 2020-21.
Milano was not right.
Forget about hockey, the Ducks were concerned that a head injury could affect them for the rest of their lives. So they told him to stay off the ice until he feels right, until the headache, dizziness, and other symptoms related to post-concussion syndrome finally go away.
When symptoms eased last summer, then and only then could Milano consider returning to the Ducks, rejoining for training camp at Great Park Ice in Irvine. She saw Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, a neurologist in Brighton, Michigan, in August, and was cleared to attend the camp.
Coach Dallas Eakins then teamed up with Ryan Getzlaff and Troy Terry in the first three days of practice, and then won 6-3 over the San Jose Sharks at Honda Center, for the opening of the Ducks exhibit on Sunday. Milano set up Bo Groulx for a second period goal and Terry for one in the third.
“I don’t remember exactly,” Milano said of feeling like himself again. “But it was sometime in August, I believe. That’s when I started pushing him too. I was working off-ice mostly in June and July. At some point in August, I went to Michigan and got a Saw the specialist and things started to go well.
“That’s when it all happened.”
It was one thing to skate, practice, and feel good.
Playing and contributing to an actual game was quite different, though.
“It’s a good first step, and the first step is to try and play through the game and believe in your head and believe in yourself that you can do this,” Eakins said. “After losing so much time, there’s always going to be a little bit of self-doubt in the camp.”
Nothing was promised to the 25-year-old Milano, who is one of many skilled players looking for ice time and a key role in a rebuilding team. Playing like Sunday against the Sharks, a spot chase on the left wing could help when the regular season against the Winnipeg Jets begins on October 13.
“It took me a period,” Milano said of getting comfortable in the playing conditions again. “We were playing five-on-five this summer, but once you get into the game it’s completely different. It takes a period or a half to get used to it. Once that happened, I’m good. Put.”
According to Milano, Terry and Eakins, the Ducks played the first period to forget. But he began to click in the second and then used a late flurry in the final minutes of the game to break the 3-3 tie and win the first of seven appearances before the regular season resumed the following month.
Cody Curran scored a tie-breaking goal of the third period at 12:03, with assists from Terry and Buddy Robinson. Terry made it 5–3 with a power-play goal at 15:32, assisted by Alexander Volkov and Milano, and Greg Peterin sealed the deal with a blank-net goal at 18:23.
Karan, a 31-year-old defenseman, played his first NHL exhibition game with the Ducks’ AHL team, the San Diego Gulls, after spending all of the previous season and playing in Europe for the past three years. He never appeared in NHL regular-season games.
Lukas Dostal blocked 13 of 14 shots before giving Ole Ericsson one in the middle of the game in the planned division of goalscoring duties. Eakins said it was possible that each of the six goalkeepers in the camp would play at least part of an exhibition game, but that had not been decided as of Sunday.
In July, Mason McTavish, third overall pick in the NHL Draft, sprained his ankle during the rookie faceoff tournament in Scottsdale, Arizona, and could not join his new teammates for the first three days of training camp. Eakins said he had resumed skating but was not ready to practice or play.