2020 njt suzuki millman tc

Zuke and Milly: Best friends for life

Considering the important role they have played in each other’s journey, it’s fitting Ryan Suzuki and Mason Millman are chasing their World Juniors dream together

Madison Koekkoek
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November 30, 2020
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Seven years of minor hockey, 75 picks apart in the NHL Draft, reunited in the Ontario Hockey League, invited to Canada’s National Junior Team Sport Chek Selection Camp.

Some of the biggest moments in the young lives of Ryan Suzuki and Mason Millman have one common thread: They’ve been right there beside each other (or on the other end of the line) when the phone rang.

Two best friends from London, Ont., two longtime London Jr. Knights teammates, now find themselves chasing one remarkable dream.

When Mason Millman’s phone rang in late October inviting him to Sport Chek selection camp, he was in between swings at the Tin Cup driving range with Suzuki and longtime friend Gordie O’Dwyer.

Millman – who was taken 103rd by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2019 NHL Draft – walked away to take the call. He circled back and the boys him asked who it was.

“He’s like ‘It was Hockey Canada’ and we’re like ‘Come on, actually?’,” says O’Dwyer, a goaltender who will spend the 2020-21 season with the Strathroy Rockets of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League. “He was super excited and Ryan and I were super excited for him. It was pretty special.”

While hearing from coaching staff and management is momentous in and of itself, the fact that it’s “Another thing Zuke and I get to do along our road trip together,” is an added bonus for Millman.

Suzuki – the 28th pick in the 2019 NHL Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes – had received his call a few days prior and was equally as excited for the chance to don red and white. The pair would be giving it their best shot at selection camp together.

Finding them at the driving range wasn’t a surprise. While it was golf this year, they find an activity every summer to keep busy, stay active and maintain healthy competition.

“When we were younger we were on a soccer team with all the guys. And then one summer we were playing paintball. We’re always doing something,” says Suzuki. “But we push each other no matter what it is. Whether it’s ping pong in the basement or just playing video games, we’re always competitive.”

Their core group in London is all former teammates, united in minor hockey and remaining friends into young adulthood.

“You gotta surround yourself with good guys, with good people, so a lot of our success comes from that,” says Suzuki.

The duo knows that competition outside of hockey is an important way to maintain balance and ensure their friendship doesn’t burn out on hockey. This is echoed by O’Dwyer: “It’s super important as a friend group to get away from everything and hang out with the boys and do something we all enjoy.”

There isn’t consensus amongst the three on how relaxed their time away from the rink is, though.

“You know nothing can ever just be fun with the competitive edge we have, so even a nice day on the golf course is still max performance and max competition,” laughs Millman. “But I think just relaxing, hanging around with our buddies and joking around is how we cool off.”

Millman and Suzuki not only have the support of their buddies but also have the added benefit of looking to Ryan’s older brother Nick, who wore the Maple Leaf at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, as an example.

“When he was going through all his stuff, me and Mason watched him go through it from a couple years behind,” says Suzuki. “Obviously Nick is my brother so I’m forced to hang out with him but I get to choose every day to go over to Mason’s house and hang out and spend quality time with him.”

An older brother to look up to, and a chosen brother to do it alongside.

Both 2021 World Juniors hopefuls acknowledge this notion that the relationship they’ve built is more than just a friendship.

“Zuke and I are both at the point now where it’s not so much just a friendship. It’s two brothers going head-to-head at things.”

While it’s head-to-head in different roles on the ice – Millman is a defenceman and Suzuki a centre – there’s certainly less contrast in how they carry themselves off the ice.

“We both like doing the same things and we’re both pretty outgoing, but Milly’s more of a smooth talker, I’m more shy when you first meet me, but when you crack me open I’m pretty outgoing,” insists Suzuki. “Milly cracked me open pretty early.”

“He doesn’t talk much at first but I think he shows a lot of leadership by the way he works on the ice and off the ice,” Millman adds.

“They’re both really good dudes. They can have some conversations that a couple of us can’t chime in on,” says O’Dwyer. “They’re super tight and just a typical brother friendship where they can joke around and nobody takes it to heart and the next day, they can do something and still love each other.”

While it didn’t take Milly long to crack Zuke open, another thing that didn’t take him long was dialing Facetime the day Ryan got traded to Saginaw on Jan. 10. Excited to be united after two-and-a-half years apart, he had all the inside scoop and excitement to share.

“There was a two-year break in between Zuke and I getting to play with each other. When he got traded it was kind of funny seeing him again in the colours I was wearing,” says Millman. “I kinda made a joke to him just saying how he can’t leave me, how he’s too in love with me to leave me.”

But Millman noticed a difference in Suzuki’s hockey sense in the first time they’d been apart.

“I think he’s just way more lethal and a lot better with the puck … he’s someone who, you give him that slightest bit of space, would take that play and make that play.”

They’re fiercely proud of one another.

From seven years developing as young players together with the Jr. Knights to a quarantine in a Red Deer hotel as part of selection camp, there aren’t very many hockey experiences they haven’t shared.

“We were both two little pipsqueaks playing Jr. Knights together and we both have the same dream, so to grow up with Milly and become such good friends through our hockey career, it’s something pretty special.”

Zuke and Milly, best friends forever, representing the 519.

For more information:

Dominick Saillant
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada
514-895-9706
[email protected]

 

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-284-6484
[email protected]

 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
Office: 403-777-4567
Mobile: 905-906-5327
[email protected]

 

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