Last season’s Falcons goalie now in early stages of pro ice hockey career

Posted November 1, 2016

Former UW-River Falls men’s hockey goalie Tanner Milliron graduated last spring. His days playing for the Falcons came to a close, but his hockey career is far from over.

Milliron, whose hometown is New Richmond, Wisconsin, now plays with the Evansville Thunderbolts of the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL). The Thunderbolts are the “A” team in the Minnesota Wild organization.

After receiving his diploma in May, Milliron went on to train with the Minnesota Wild organization. He performed well enough to earn a contract in the Wild’s farm system with the Quad City (Illinois) Mallards of the East Coast Hockey League. Training camp came to an end, and Milliron made his way past the final cuts. He was primed for a season with the Wild’s “AA” team, and was just two levels below the National Hockey League.

However, Milliron wouldn’t start the season with the Mallards.

“The Minnesota Wild sent down a goalie (to Quad City) that they felt needed some development, and then I ended up in Evansville, Indiana,” Milliron said in a telephone interview.

The SPHL season kicked off last week, and in the Thunderbolts’ second game, Milliron stopped 40 shots but allowed two goals in a 2-1 loss, according to the SPHL. Despite the loss, Milliron was happy to get that first taste of professional hockey.

“It’s just nice to get my feet wet, and kind of see where I need more development and tiny things I can pick up on to keep moving up the ranks,” said Milliron.

During his senior season at UWRF, Milliron posted a 14-7-5 record and allowed 1.83 goals per game (first in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference last year). His time at UWRF prepared him for his professional career.

“The tradition of River Falls helped me a lot,” said Milliron. “Coming out of River Falls, I was a more refined winner… Coach (Steve) Freeman put me in a good position to have a lot of minutes and it really helped me develop in that sense to move on to where I am now.”

Freeman, who has coached at least five players who went on to play professional hockey, viewed Milliron as more than just a talented goalie.

“What really impressed me was his demeanor,” said Freeman. “What a well-balanced person he was as far as academics and athletics. He was a terrific student-athlete. He was involved in so many things.”

When it came to Milliron’s time on the ice, Freeman saw Milliron as one of the hardest workers he’s ever coached.

“If we had a night game at seven o’clock at night, he might be there at 10 in the morning getting ready for the game and stretching out in between classes… A very, very focused student athlete,” Freeman said.

It’s no coincidence players coached by Freeman are reaching professional levels.

“The biggest thing is that he treated us like professionals every single day,” said Milliron. “He expected us to fulfill our roles. He really trusted his guys that he knew was going to perform, and just let them run with it.”

Outside of playing hockey, Milliron works for a goaltender training group called ProHybrid Training. The group is based out of Minneapolis, but Milliron is able to train goalies wherever he goes during his hockey career.

At the end of his playing career, Milliron wants to be able to look back and acknowledge that he left everything on the ice and gave himself the best opportunity to succeed. However, his career is far from over, and he’s got big aspirations of reaching the National Hockey League (NHL).

“That (reaching the NHL) has to be in the back of my mind all the time. And what’s really good is the league I’m playing in is known for developing goalies,” Milliron said. “I’m staying as positive as I can and just doing my best.”