Mason Millman and Ryan Suzuki have been teammates more often than opponents, spending the bulk of their youth on the same London Junior Knights team.
Now both playing in the OHL, a deal at the trade deadline earlier this month helped reunite “Milly” and “Zuke” with the Saginaw Spirit.
“We’ve been best friends since we were really young,” said Millman, who’s into his second season with Saginaw. “Having him back here is really nice, having that friendship back in the room.”
The pair joined Around the OHL to talk about joining forces in Saginaw.
Suzuki had spent his entire junior career in Barrie prior to the trade. It was an adjustment at first, but having a familiar face on his new team helped with the transition.
“I had a lot of fun in Barrie, they had a young team this year and were building for the future, so the opportunity to go to Saginaw was great for me, they’re building for a championship so when I got the call from my agent that I was going there, I was really excited.”
The Spirit made it to the third round last season before they were eliminated by OHL champions the Guelph Storm. The team is poised for another lengthy run this season.
It was also a breakout campaign for Millman, his first in the OHL, that helped put him on the radar for the National Hockey League draft where he was eventually selected in the fourth round.
He’s seen his role increase this year, playing big minutes on the blue line and has even been tasked with quarterbacking the team’s power play.
“It’s been very fun, you look to your right and you have Cole Perfetti, then you look to your left and you have Zuke coming down the wing, then you have Damien Giroux in front and Cole Coskey in the slot, it makes my job pretty easy as a puck distributor,” said Millman.
“You put the puck in those guys hands and you have faith in them that they are going to do something special with it.”
While they prepare for a post season run in Saginaw, the pair reflect back on some of their previous successes while in minor hockey. They won their fair share of tournaments playing in the Junior Knights ‘AAA’ system, but Millman looks back on their major peewee season as one of his best memories.
“I think we lost like two games all year, so that season was pretty fun going to the rink and winning like every single day,” Millman said.
“And then we were still young, so after the game you go back to someone’s house and have a mini stick tournament.”
Suzuki and Millman are typically on the same page, but not when it comes to some of those childhood memories.
“Um, probably me,” Millman laughed when asked who was the better mini sticks player, insisting Suzuki was a better goalie.
And those mini stick games would have featured a ton of skill as that was an impressive age group for the junior Knights organization, who graduated several players to the Ontario Hockey League. Aidan Prueter, Luke Drewitt, Liam Van Loon and Mason Howard are all currently playing in the league, while Levi Siau and Peter Fleming played in the OHL last season.
Last year, Ryan’s older brother Nick Suzuki was reunited with one of his childhood teammates, joining Isaac Ratcliffe in Guelph, Ont. They went on to win the 2019 OHL championship.
“I watched the playoff run the whole time, they had a lot of fun and that’s exactly what I want to do this year with Milly, we have the team to do it, so why not us?”