The core – the older core and the younger core – they’re all phenomenal people. They wish the best for each other, they root for each other, and have each others backs ... As a culture, that’s pretty special. It was pretty cool to see and pretty fun to be apart of it. - Jon Gillies on the Flames organization
CALGARY, AB – In the dog days of summer, the Calgary Flames goaltending situation, both in Calgary and with their AHL affiliate in Stockton, could be described as murky.
Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo, who re-signed with the club on July 1, are under contract for the 2015-16 season. Youngster Joni Ortio, who turned heads during his cup of coffee with the Flames last year, is on a one-way deal in the upcoming campaign.
And Jon Gillies, fresh off winning a national championship with Providence College, is entering the fray. The 21-year-old signed an entry-level contract with the club shortly after Providence’s 4-3 win over Boston University at the Frozen Four final on Apr. 11.
Where Gillies slots in on the depth chart is yet to be seen but he is clear on what the organization expects of him this fall.
“Show the battle level, the compete level, work as hard as I can on and off the ice. Just make the most of the opportunities. Make sure I’m preparing myself, being a good pro, learning how to be a pro -- which was a big thing I started to learn at the end of this year, being up here around these guys,” Gillies told CalgaryFlames.com during development camp.
“I know I have to be ready to make the most of any opportunities.”
No matter what role he plays during his first professional season, Gillies is thrilled to be officially entering the Flames organization after three years as Providence’s starting ‘tender.
He has kept a close eye on the team that drafted him in the third round (75th overall) in 2012, watching as more and more young players have been not only been given an opportunity to play in the NHL but take on meaningful minutes and significant roles.
“You look what Sammy Bennett was able to do in the playoffs, stepping in right away. Obviously with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, what they did this year. Then you’ve got guys like Josh Jooris who came in and made an impact – Micheal Ferland, all those guys. I think there’s a really, really good young core in place here and hopefully I earn my way into being a part of that,” he said. “They’ve done a tremendous job on and off the ice of being ambassadors for the Calgary Flames. It’s really fun to watch from afar and also really fun to be a part of it for a little bit.
“Hopefully I can be a part of it going forward.”
The South Portland, ME product got a small taste of what life is like in the NHL last April. After he signed his entry-level deal, he joined the Flames in Vancouver, where they were preparing for Game 1 of the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The time he spent with the team during the postseason served as more motivation for the young netminder and reinforced what type of culture the Flames have cultivated.
“The core – the older core and the younger core – they’re all phenomenal people. They wish the best for each other, they root for each other, and have each others backs. That support factor was really refreshing to see because you never know how it is going to be when guys are getting paid -- maybe they want to [look out] for themselves.
“But I don’t think there’s one person on the Calgary Flames like that. As a culture, that’s pretty special. It was pretty cool to see and pretty fun to be apart of it.”
The 2014-15 campaign was a banner season for Gillies, who ended the year with a 24-13-2 record with a 2.01 GAA, a .930 save percentage, and four shutouts. He wrapped up his collegiate career as the Friars' all-time shutout leader (13), moved into second place in career wins at Providence College (60-34-13), and currently ranks second at Providence in career saves (3,000) and fourth in goaltender appearances (108).
While he and the Friars were unable to capture the Hockey East Championship but earned themselves a berth in the NCAA tournament. They went on to dismantle Miami, Denver, Omaha, and finally, Brandon Hickey and Boston University to become the 2015 national champions.
In the final, Gillies made a career-high 49 saves against the Terriers and was named the Frozen Four’s Most Outstanding Player for his efforts.
Looking back on his performance in the NCAA tournament, Gillies said he was able to lean on past experiences as the Friars battled their way to the Frozen Four final.
“I’ve won a gold medal at the World Juniors but that was more of being along for the ride because I was the back-up goaltender. Even then, you see what it takes to win, you see how guys prepare themselves – how John Gibson prepared himself for the big moments. You try and incorporate some of those mindsets into your own game.”
While reminiscing about the Friars championship run, Gillies was quick to point how much of an impact his fellow Flames prospects, Mark Jankowski and John Gilmour, had in the tournament.
“With Mark, the improvement this year was off the charts. Off the ice, on the ice, he was phenomenal all year. You saw what he did going down the stretch in the tournament, he was maybe our best player,” Gillies raved. “He did everything we could have asked for and so much more.
“John Gilmour is probably one of the best skaters I’ve ever seen. He missed a good chunk of time, after blocking a shot for me. I think it was going over the net but I appreciated it. But he came back at the right time and was able to find his stride really quickly. He’s one of those guys on the blueline who you can’t replace. He’s got such a unique skill set and he brings a sense of calmness back there.”
Gillies is close with Jankowski and Gilmour so thinking about entering the upcoming season is a bittersweet. He’s looking forward to turning pro but he will miss his teammates back in Providence.
“I was telling the other guys it would be nice to go back and do that celebration on the ice all over again with my teammates, my roommates, see my mom crying, stuff like that. It was pretty special,” he said. “We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs throughout our career together … I think that was the most special part.
“The winning was fun but sharing it with everyone who is important to you and everyone who helped you get there was definitely the best part.”