The Long Journey
Written by: Megan Youngblood
‘Perseverance and fortitude’: What hockey has brought Jamie Milam
Hockey has been in Motor City Rockers defenseman Jamie Milam’s life from a very young age.
“My first time on skates, I was three years old at Lakeland Arena in Waterford,” Milam said.
His love for hockey came during a time when his mom needed some extra help.
“The story my mom tells is that right after my parents divorced, she didn’t know what to do with us kids and a woman that she knew said ‘put them in hockey,’” Milam said. “My brother and I were pretty good athletes so it just kind of worked out that we both really enjoyed it.”
With an older brother, it was easy for Jamie to follow in big brother Troy’s footsteps, even when it came down to wearing the same number as him.
“He’s been number six from a young age, I think he was 12,” Milam said. “I always wore 13 because I was born on May 13, but everybody said that was a bad luck number so when I was given the choice I was like 15 or 16, I switched, and it’s been six from then on.”
Now many years after the switch, six will forever be a part of not only their hockey career but a part of their skin due to the fact they both have it tattooed on their arm.
“We both now have a tattoo,” Milam said, patting his right arm. “It’s a brother-in-arms, number six defense hockey kind of thing.”
Being four years apart Jamie and Troy didn’t get to play with each other until Jamie’s freshman year of college, Troy’s senior year.
“We never got to play until one year in college,” Milam said. “He was a senior and I was a freshman and we got to play against each other.”
Years later when Jamie was playing in Slovakia, the two brothers finally got to wear the same jersey.
“He was playing in Korea at the time, and it was the year that the Olympics were in Seoul and their season ended late December so in January, February, and March he would have just been sitting in Korea,” Milam said. “So, I said ‘Hey man you’re probably going to take a big hit on your paycheck, but you could still come over here and play with me, so he did.”
For the first time, Jamie got to experience Troy in a different element. He lived a mile away from him, sat next to him in the locker room, and saw how he prepared for games.
“We’re definitely mentally different in that aspect (game preparation),” Milam said. “But he for sure had a big impact on me growing up because when we weren’t off playing hockey, we were always doing something competitive or active against each other and keeping each other on our toes.”
Despite being older and more mature, Jamie still relies on Troy when he needs it most.
“Now we are just good friends,” Milam said. “The first person I go to for advice on hockey especially is my brother.”
Playing and skating from the age of three means a lot of different memories that leave a lasting impact, but an early one sticks out for Milam.
“It is really tough,” Milam said. “But in minor hockey my team Honey Baked 84 level, we won the Bantam national championship and that was pretty cool. That was like my first experience with being the best and getting that put into my mind like this is what it feels like to be good and to be a winner and it stuck with me and now I chase that feeling.”
Throughout his career, Milam has tried out for many different teams, and he doesn’t always make all of them, but they still leave a lasting impact on him.
“In college, I got to go to a World Junior camp and try out with Team USA,” Milam said. “That was a really cool experience in Lake Placid just because of the history and I shot a puck through the glass there which was pretty memorable.”
Traveling all over the world and being on different teams means going to different rinks. Some are nicer than others, but the ones that stick out to Milam are the ones with the most character.
“There was a place in Slovakia that looked like a whiskey barrel that was cut in half,” Milam said. “It was a wooden dome with flat ends on both sides, it was pretty cool looking and I was wondering if there was another rink somewhere in the country with the other half.”
The weirder the set-up, the more memorable it is for Milam.
“It is the weird aesthetics that you remember the most,” he said. “There was a place in Europe where you had to get dressed outside in a trailer and walk through all the fans that were outside smoking cigarettes. It is those character places that I remember the most.”
When it comes to off the ice, there is one place Milam traveled to that sticks out to him the most.
“I really enjoyed my time in Scotland,” Milam said. “With or without hockey I’d like to go back there. It was just my kind of place, everyone’s friendly and having people that speak English which is different compared to when I was in Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania was nice.”
Having people who speak the same language as you when you’re in a new place is a comforting feeling, but what made the experience even better was the connection to his family.
“My grandma’s parents were born in Paisley, Scotland and I wasn’t far from there,” Milam said. “My mom got to come over and it was a big dream for her for me to play there, so it was a cool experience for everybody.”
Milam also enjoyed the amenities that Scotland had to offer not only to him but to those who visited him as well.
“My brother got to come visit me while I was there,” Milam said. “We got to play at the St Andrews golf course together. There were a lot of things I did there, and I’d like to go back in the summertime and visit.”
On top of being a player, Milam is also listed as an assistant coach.
“I’ve had so much experience in my career that it just made sense to start the process so once I’m finally done playing, coaching can be an option,” Milam said. “Nick (Fields) was nice enough to grant me that possibility to be a player and a coach.”
Milam isn’t the only one who takes on the role of player and assistant coach. Defenseman Danny Vanderwiel also takes on that role and with head coach Gordie Brown, they have been able to build a good relationship.
“We are starting to develop this kind of one unity of a brain where sometimes I don’t need to say anything and they kind of know what I’m thinking,” Milam said.
Jamie’s priority is being a player but more recently with injuries and different call-ups, he has put the coaching hat on.
“It is definitely an everyday thing even if it’s not always verbalized. Some days I just want to survive a game because I am old and don’t want to think too much about doing anything but my job on the ice, but some days, we have to talk about what are we going to do, who’s going to play this position, so it’s been in my mind a lot more.”
Off the Ice
When Milam isn’t on the ice either playing or working on different skills in practice, he either spends his time working or being a homebody.
“Juliano (Jonathan) and his family have an industrial glass window, installation, and manufacturing business so I’m in the warehouse building frames, and they treat me well over there,” Milam said. “But other than that, I like to play golf, I like to go bowling, I still play a lot of video games even though I’m probably a little bit too old for it, but my wife and I, we’re homebodies.”
One thing Jamie likes to do when relaxing at home is work on fun little projects.
“I just got into pyrography (woodworking), “Milam said. “I like messing around with wooden tools and I’ve been getting pretty good at that.”
Milam also enjoys taking his two cats for walks.
“My wife and I take our cats for walks on leashes, which I’m the only person I know that does that,” Milam said. “They have feline HIV and just in case they get into it with a neighbor’s cat and spread the disease, we do take them out. It's the two of us together, each of us with a cat on a leash and a harness. It is tedious but it's responsible and it’s the best time of their lives.”
Hockey has taught Jamie a lot of things, but the most important thing he has learned is a sense of pride.
“It was hockey that kind of established this mindset for me to never quit and work hard,” Milam said. “When I come to work, I come to either teach or learn or to get better. I’ve developed this kind of mentality where if I’m not going to do it, who will.”
Before joining the Rockers last season, Milam didn’t know if he would play again.
“I was skeptical about paying again because I am an older guy, but it’s brought a lot of pride to myself that I can keep up and not only keep up but be really effective and have an impact on every game,” Milam said, “It really brings a lot of joy to myself.”