Kent-based Seattle Thunderbirds goalie Thomas Milic turned out to be one of the key reasons Canada won the gold medal at the 2023 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Junior Championship in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Milic, 19, of Coquitlam, British Columbia, posted a 43-save performance in the team’s 6-2 semifinal win over the United States before making 24 saves in the 3-2 overtime championship game win Jan. 5 against Czechia.
“This is what I’ve dreamed for my entire career and I’m just so happy I got to do it with this special group right here,” Milic said to reporters after the game.
The 6-foot-1, 176-pound Milic played in six games, including the quarterfinals, semifinals and title game. He had 137 saves on 147 shots on goal for a 93.20 save percentage. He had a 1.76 goals against average.
Milic helped the T-Birds win the Western Hockey League Western Conference title last season and has been a big part of Seattle’s success this season, including a top ranking among 60 teams in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL).
“Canada outshot the Czechs, 38-26, but both goalies were sensational,” according to a championship game report on the IIHF website. “Thomas Milic, ignored for two years in the draft, was brilliant the last two weeks and will have no problem attracting NHL suitors now. His counterpart and WHL opponent, Tomas Suchanek (Tri-City Americans), played every minute for the Czechs this tournament, and will certainly be drafted later this summer after his incredible performance.”
Three other T-Birds also were part of Canada’s championship team. Forward Reid Schaefer and defensemen Nolan Allan and Kevin Korchinski will return to Seattle with championship honors.
Canada finished the preliminary round in second place in Group A with a 3-1 record after a loss to Czechia (5-2) and wins over Germany (11-2), Austria (11-0) and Sweden (5-1). Canada advanced to the gold medal game with a 4-3 overtime win against Slovakia in the quarterfinals and a 6-2 win over the United States in the semifinals.
Milic especially shined in the win over Slovakia to advance Canada to the semifinals.
“We don’t get there without Thomas,” head coach Dennis Williams said to reporters. “He was lights out. Made some key saves in overtime. Some big time saves in the third … I thought he was dynamite tonight.”
There was no bigger save than his spectacular double-save in overtime to stop Slovakia’s Servac Petrovsky, according to an article on the CHL website. He made an initial left pad save as Petrovsky tipped Filip Mesar’s shot but on the rebound stretched with his left glove to deny the Owen Sound Attack forward the game-winner.
“It was a bit of wonky puck so I don’t think he had full strength on it so I was a bit lucky there,” Milic said post-game. “Just being ready at any moment, at the start of the game or in overtime, I did whatever I could to help the team win.”
The performance impressed Canada’s captain Shane Wright, a member of the Seattle Kraken.
“He was unreal tonight,” Wright said, according to the CHL website. “Some of those saves were unbelievable and kept us in the game. Some of those saves saved our tournament. That one in overtime, I don’t even know how he stretched out that far to make that save. He didn’t get fazed at all.”
Milic didn’t start Canada’s opening night defeat to Czechia, although he did enter the game in relief of Benjamin Gaudreau, according to the CHL website article. He started Canada’s victory over Germany but backed up Gaudreau against Austria. However, he got the nod against Sweden and didn’t relinquish the net the rest of the tournament.
Milic went undrafted by the NHL the past two summers despite his eligibility. Since he turns 20 in April, he won’t be eligible for the 2023 draft as all North American players must be under 20 years old by December of the draft year in order to be selected at the draft, according to the Sporting News website.
But that makes Milic a free agent, available to any NHL team, according to the report.
Meanwhile, Milic will rejoin the T-Birds as they seek another Western Conference title and a potential WHL championship and Memorial Cup victory. Scott Ratalaff, who replaced Milic as goalie during his absence, was recently named the WHL Goaltender of the Month for his play in December, giving the T-Birds two outstanding goalies.