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Gillies looking to knock off rust at Young Stars

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

PENTICTON, BC -- If Carey Price can show a little rust, so too, Jon Gillies suggests, can he.

It’s been a long, long layoff between games, after all.

“I’m going to try to stop the puck when I’m in there, get the details back in my game and shake the rust out. That’s first and foremost,” said Gillies, who will open the 2016 Young Stars Classic in net when the Calgary Flames face the Winnipeg Jets at the South Okanagan Events Centre on Friday.

“It’s been a long time off. Even the best goalie in the world in his first World Cup exhibition, Carey Price, was talking about the rust he had. If it happens to him it’s definitely going to happen to everyone else. He got it back pretty fast. Hopefully I can take that route and get everything back really quickly.

“You have to be patient with it though. You know it’s coming and you know it’s going to happen. Training camp is a marathon, not a sprint. When you get there you want to stay there. You want to make sure you’re ready to put your best foot forward when you get to the next level.”

Price missed all but 12 games for the Montreal Canadiens in 2015-16 after sustaining an early-season knee injury. His first action came in an exhibition game for Team Canada, against Team USA, at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 last week.

Gillies, who is expected to go 60 minutes in the exhibition, is suiting up for the first time in game competition since undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a nagging hip injury that popped up in November.


“It was a weird play,” said Gillies, whose first pro season was limited to just seven games. “The puck was coming in on the right side and it changed directions quick. I went to reach for it and felt a little pop. My leg went numb again like the very first time it happened. I labored through the rest of the period.

“I lost all strength in it and couldn’t do any strength tests or anything like that. I took a day off and re-evaluated it and just kept trying to come back after three weeks, skating and working out, but it wasn’t meant to be. The decision came down to shut me down. ‘Yes sir,’ and go from there.”

Surgery from the anterior labrum tear translated to a lengthy rehab for Gillies. Undergoing the surgery in December, Gillies is now nine months removed from going under the knife.

It’s a long time to sit idle, and a long time for a 22-year-old to stay patient.

But an excellent learning opportunity, too.

“When something like that happens when you can’t control it you have to make the best of the situation you’re in,” said Gillies, who went 2-3-1 with a 2.31 GAA and .920 save percentage with Stockton of the American Hockey League last season before being shut down.

“I tried to soak up everything everyone had to offer, whether it was just seeing how the guys conduct themselves. There were three veteran goalies here in [Jonas Hiller], [Karri Ramo], and Niklas Backstrom, who have all been around a long time. You soak up their habits and work ethic and try to incorporate those things into your game.

“It was a good learning experience. Being able to be around the guys for three months with the big club for rehab was a great time to be a sponge and soak up everything and learn as much as I can and hit the ground running this year.”

A lot has changed between the pipes in Calgary since Gillies' last on-ice activity, though.

Gone are those he watched up close -- Hiller, Ramo, and Backstrom -- as well as Joni Ortio. In are Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson, both welcomed this summer to help secure the goaltending ranks after the Flames finished last in the NHL in goals against and save percentage.

As Gillies sees it, it’s another learning opportunity, as he looks to make the most of a reboot following a trying first year in pro hockey.

“There are two very experienced guys that were brought in this summer,” Gillies said. “I’ve hung out with them a little bit and they’re unbelievable teammates and unbelievable guys. I try to soak up as much as I can from them from an experience standpoint.

“I want to get as many games as possible. That’s the end goal. You can’t rush there, especially with the situation that we’re in. If you’re worrying about rushing you might miss out on the experience I have in front of me and what I can learn from them. Brian Elliott went so deep in the playoffs last year. I can learn a lot from that.

“You have to take it one day and a time and let the chips fall where they may. That’s all you can really do.”

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