Player relaxes through clothing creations

SHOWING OFF HIS STYLE — Dan Milan, a defenseman with the Wheeling Nailers, shows off his distinctive style at the WesBanco Arena. -- Betsy Bethel

WHEELING — Dan Milan tears up the ice and his opponents as the Wheeling Nailers’ top penalty-earning defenseman, and he has the stitches to prove it — about 50 throughout his career.

Off the ice, though, Milan is more likely to be tearing out seams on thrift-store-bought T-shirts and stitching heavy-metal-band patches onto his Vans shoes using the new sewing machine he got for Christmas.

“I’m a hockey player first, but when I find time to relax, I like to just get creative, and I do it through my clothes,” the 25-year-old said.

His statement wardrobe has earned him the nickname Stylin’ Milan, which he uses as his social media handle — he has nearly 10,000 Instagram and 3,200 Twitter followers.

Milan said he started “distressing” his own jeans when he was in middle school in suburban Detroit as a way to expand his wardrobe. He liked jeans from Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister, but he could only get one pair because the cost was prohibitive.

“So instead, I had my grandma take me to Target, and we’d get three pairs instead of just one.” Then he took sandpaper and scissors to them, bleached them, and made them look the way he wanted. He threw on paint leftover from his abandoned model car hobby, and wrote song lyrics and personal sayings on them in Sharpie. His aunt gave him her old Husqvarna sewing machine, and he taught himself to sew from YouTube videos.

These days, he has an arsenal of tools from Jo-Ann Fabrics and Wal-Mart, and he scores most of his raw materials from the Salvation Army or St. Vincent de Paul thrift stores.

“And that’s not even going just straight into the guys’ section,” he said. “There’s sheets that have really cool designs on them. There’s stuff in the girls’ section where I’ve, like, ripped the fur out of some sort of jacket and put it onto something else.”

On March 14 after practice at WesBanco Arena, Milan had on a white T-shirt with the sleeves cut off under a Sherpa hoodie and topped with a black denim jacket. He wore his black jeans inside out; he had ripped out the knees, drawn a regal, horned figure with a cross on its bare chest on one thigh; and sewn white fabric under the opposite knee and wrapped a hockey lace around it. He wrote in block letters: Action -S Never Lie!! 248” on the fabric. A beige, knit, Neff beanie covered his chin-length brown hair. White Vans adorned his feet, marked up with a silver Sharpie: “Looking 4 a Star,” “Scared of Being an Outcast,” “NEVER.” One tongue bore a vintage KISS patch; the other, AC/DC.

“Anything creative, that’s literally been me, whether it’s drawing or making my own clothes or just something silly like freestylin’ and dancin’. Just anything to express yourself, I enjoy doing,” he said.

He looks to modern fashion icons like Kanye West and Jerry Lorenzo for inspiration and gets ideas from fashion magazines and social media sites.

“I like rap music, I look at what a lot of rappers wear, but at the same time, I mix my own styles in,” he said. He’s also a “big trench coat guy,” enamored with the characters in video games like Zelda and Final Fantasy.

“I always thought the outfits those guys had in those games were so cool. … To find a coat from the 1600s, that stuff is virtually impossible to find unless you’re going to a museum. … The stuff they would wear, you can’t find that in the mall,” he said. So he alters thrift-store trenches to fit his style.

He still shops at the mall, though, at stores such as Hot Topic and Pac Sun — still looking to save money, he said. Hot Topic gets a bad reputation as being strictly emo or gothic, but he has discovered otherwise.

“It’s funny, everybody’s scared to go into Hot Topic, but they’ve got great stuff in there. … You’re not finding the gold that’s in there,” such as skinny jeans and unexpected graphic tees.

He finds inspiration in music, too, and his taste is “all over the map.”

“Anything from electronic music to the hardest underground rap music to old bands to ’90s bands,” Milan said. He looks for hidden messages to convey on his clothes, but some of it is “just random words that kind of look cool.”

In white fabric paint on a red-and-black flannel shirt, he wrote in block letters: “I’d rather die a free man,” and on the other side wrote “Than live like a slave.”

That sentiment is for his dad, he said, who works in the finance industry but always has encouraged his son to follow his hockey dreams.

Milan played hockey in high school and has played professionally for teams in Fort Wayne, Ind., Brampton, Ontario, and Florida. Nailers head Coach Jeff Christian calls him “tough” and “gritty,” and Nailers announcer and spokesman D.J. Abisalih said he’s “durable” and has an “open personality.”

“He has been a fan favorite everywhere he’s played,” Abisalih said. “He’s been pretty much exactly what we hoped to get from a personality standpoint. Obviously, his play on the ice is great; he’s right now, knock on wood, he’s the only one who’s played in every game so far this season.”

Playing three or four games a week leaves little down time, but Milan said he uses it to create clothes, study for a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Central Michigan University and explore the downtown Wheeling area.

“I think I’ve covered everything within a two-mile radius of my apartments,” he said, speaking of the Boury Lofts on Main and 16th streets. He said Wheeling is “completely different” from anywhere he’s lived. “I’ve never experienced a city that was around before the United States was even a country.”

His parents and girlfriend have visited often from Michigan and enjoy the uniqueness of Wheeling, too, he said.

He has aspirations of turning his fashion hobby into a business some day, once his time on the ice and in the penalty box is up.

“You can’t really box creativity,” he said.