PENTICTON, BC -- For the first time in four years, Jon Gillies isn’t bound for Providence. Instead, he’s found in Penticton.
And while being a pro hockey player has never felt more real for the netminder, the pressure hasn’t gotten to him.
At least, not to the point where the 21-year-old will admit it.
“I think it’s all happened pretty fast,” said Gillies, the expected starter as the Flames kick off the Young Stars Classic in Penticton on Friday. “At the same time, being able to be home for a little bit, that was nice. I’m from a small town in Maine. Things like this don’t happen too often. It’s easy to get caught up in all of it. Family keeps you grounded and helps you never forget where you came from. Being able to spend time with my best friends, who have been there from the beginning, my little brother, my parents, my grandparents, that was the most refreshing part of the summer and that’s got me ready to go most of all.”
It’d be understandable if his head hasn’t stopped spinning yet.
In April, the South Portland, ME native backstopped Providence College to their first NCAA Championship in school history. For his efforts, Gillies turned in a 49-save performance to clinch the title, and was named the NCAA Division 1 Tournament Most Outstanding Player in leading Providence through the Frozen Four.
Four days later, the 6-foot-6, 225-pound goalie signed a three-year, entry-level deal with the Calgary Flames, ending a collegiate career that saw Gillies post a 60-34-13 record with 13 shutouts. His career goals against average was 2.08 and his save percentage was .931.
Almost immediately, he joined the Flames and skated as a black ace as the Flames advanced beyond the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2004.
After a summer of training and another stop in Calgary for development camp, Gillies is back.
The nerves, however, aren’t.
“They never really got to me,” Gillies said. “It’s more of being anxious, especially with all of this time passing. I find that nerves come from psyching yourself out. There obviously there, the anxiety is there, and you might have butterflies in your stomach, but it’s all relative to the game and it’s all part of having fun.
“It’s a focused-type energy. I think Ferris Bueller said, ‘If you take life too seriously, you’ll never get out alive.’ So, you've just got to make sure you have fun with it. Obviously be serious and be focused when the time comes, but hockey is still the same game you’ve played since you were a kid. You always have to play with a smile on your face or it’s not worth it.”
His smile is near permanent.
Especially considering he’s one step closer to pulling on a Flames jersey, both literally and figuratively.
And with main camp following the Young Stars Classic in Penticton, the grin grows as Gillies preps for battle with Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio late next week.
His first camp as a professional hockey player, too.
“I think it just makes it that much more intriguing and exciting,” started Gillies. “Look at the three guys that are signed on one-way contracts, they are all great goalies and great people, especially to me. At the end of the season last year when I came up, they were very welcoming. They’ve been phenomenal throughout. It’s a competition and you want to put your best foot forward and you want to challenge the other guys, but when the game comes around, you want to root for whoever is in the net.
“You’re all a team. It’s pushing each other, but supporting whoever gets in the net, cheering for them the best way possible and then being ready when you get your chance.”