Of course the prospect of playing in Calgary one day is a fun thing to have in the back of my mind, but right now I’m just trying to get better every day and do the best I can to win games here in Stockton. - Jon Gillies
STOCKTON, CA -- It was just this past spring, on April 11th, when a 21-year-old goaltender backstopped the Providence College Friars to their first NCAA Hockey National Championship over the storied Boston University Terriers.
That goaltender’s name is Jon Gillies and he made 49 saves, the biggest of which came down the stretch in the third period, en route to the 4-3 victory for the Friars.
“I just remember the pure elation from all of our guys,” Gillies said when asked about that night. “Being able to share that moment with all of those guys was definitely a special feeling.”
Gillies played in 108 games at Providence College in three seasons and posted a record of 60-34-13. He also had a remarkable career save-percentage (.931) and a 2.08 GAA.
No game, though, was bigger than that win over BU for the title.
“My mom was crying and my three best friends from back home were able to come out and I got to see all of them after the game,” Gillies said with a grin. “That was the most special part for me, getting to share that moment with the people that got me there.”
The Concord, NH native has certainly not forgotten about where he comes from and he appreciates just how difficult it is to win that championship.
“It’s almost a pipe dream growing up,” Gillies said of winning the NCAA National Championship. “You see guys like Kenny Agostino win it with Yale and you try to picture yourself in that position, but you really can’t describe the feelings you have when you’re actually going through it.”
Fast-forward to Saturday, October 10th and Gillies is making his pro debut for the AHL’s Stockton Heat in the Calgary Flames organization.
How did he do?
He picked right back up where he left off and had a brilliant 19-save shutout performance, leading his new team to a 7-0 thrashing of the visiting Rockford IceHogs.
Sure it was just one game, but the rookie showed tremendous maturity in net and looks every bit as capable as the hype he’s garnered since that National Championship.
“I don’t get too nervous, more excitement and anxiousness really,” Gillies explained. “I grew up around this league so it’s not something that is too new to me, but still you never really picture yourself playing in this league. It’s surreal to get out there and get a few saves under my belt.”
Gillies missed most of training camp due to an upper body injury and last Saturday against Rockford was his first live game action since the Young Stars Classic in Penticton back in early September.
However, the 6-foot-6 goaltender showed no signs of rust and looks to be adjusting to the speed of the pro game quite well for having just one game on his resume.
“The pace is much quicker, but everyone at this level knows where they’re supposed to be,” Gillies said. “It’s rare to find someone out of position because if that happens it usually ends up in a goal, so guys focus on that a lot. And then when guys are backchecking they know exactly what guy to pickup and it makes my job pretty easy when that’s happening.”
The man directly in charge of Gillies’ development is goaltending coach Scott Gouthro, who described working with Gillies as a unique experience due to his skill set.
“He’s a special player for sure,” Gouthro said. “A guy with that size and that ability doesn’t come around too often. He has put a lot of good work in and it shows in his performance in both practice and in games.”
Gouthro is well known for his innovative use of video in his coaching and has helped goalies like Ondrej Pavelec reach the pinnacle of the sport in what has been a relatively short coaching career thus far.
As his newest pupil, Gillies is excited to work with Gouthro this season and has been since the playoffs last season when Gillies signed with Calgary.
“I got a little taste of what working with Gouthro is like last season during the NHL playoffs,” Gillies explained. “He is so knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the game and I think that’s what you want in a goalie coach. He’s always pushing you, but I know he has what’s best for me in mind.”
Speaking of last year’s playoffs, Gillies also got his first taste of what it’s like to be at the Scotiabank Saddledome and had a bit of a “Welcome to Calgary” moment walking to the press box with a certain member of the Flames.
“I was on the catwalk with Mark Giordano before one of the playoff games last year and he turned to me and said, ‘Just wait, kid,’ as we made it to the press box,” Gillies described. “When the crowd got going, the whole place was shaking, even the press box. The passion and the energy that city has for hockey is unbelievable.”
Gillies couldn’t be happier with the organization that landed him in the third-round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, especially after seeing that atmosphere during last season’s playoff run.
However, he knows he still has a long way to go until he can suit up for the Flames.
“I’m only 21-years-old and I’ve only played one game of pro,” Gillies said understandingly. “Of course the prospect of playing in Calgary one day is a fun thing to have in the back of my mind, but right now I’m just trying to get better every day and do the best I can to win games here in Stockton.”