He's fantastic. He was spectacular last season. He was our MVP, our best player, and he's continued it this year ... He's definitely one of the best, if not the best goalie in the nation. So it's really great to have him on our side. - Mark Jankowski on fellow Flames prospect Jon Gillies
CALGARY, AB -- If the Providence College Friars are going to make a deep run in the Hockey East playoffs and earn a trip to Philadelphia for the Frozen Four in April, Calgary Flames prospect Jon Gillies is going to be the club's linchpin.
"Jon has to be our best player," head coach Nate Leaman told CalgaryFlames.com. "Most of the best goaltenders in the nation are playing in our league right now - I think five of the top 10. Your goaltenders have to be your best players in this league because the goaltenders on the other team are very good as well."
"It starts with Jon. We want him playing his best hockey and build around from there."
Gillies, who was the Flames third round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, is in his sophomore season with the Friars and has been the backbone of the squad since his freshman year.
In his first season in Providence silks, he dazzled with outstanding performances on a regular basis and ended the year with a 2.02 GAA, a .931 save percentage and five shutouts. He was the recipient of multiple awards, including being named Hockey East's Rookie of the Year and a First-Team Hockey East All-Star.
All in all, it was a banner freshman season.
However, his sophomore year in Rhode Island has had its challenges.
Prior to the World Juniors, he went 10-1-3 with a 1.88 GAA and a .941 save percentage, which is comparable to his freshman numbers. In 12 games following the World Juniors, he went 4-6-2 with a 2.68 GAA and a .904 save percentage.
Dealing with adversity - and making strides to work through it - is a new trial for Gillies. Of course he dealt with bumps in the road in the 2012-13 season but they were small and he cruised through easily.
Gillies has had to dig himself out this year and, according to Leaman, that is ultimately going to make him a better player.
"Everything went really well for him in his freshman year and this year, he hit a little adversity as we know. Every good player is going to hit adversity from one time to another and I think the best thing for Jon is learning to battle through that.
"He's learning that when you do hit adversity, it's back to the basics. Back to working hard every day in practice and competing every day in practice. When he does that, it carries over to the games."
Thankfully for Providence, it appears that dogged work ethic has gotten Gillies back into a good rhythm.
He heads into the Friars final two games of the regular season on a high after backstopping Providence to two straight wins over UMass last weekend. He made 30 saves - including 21 in the third period - in Friday's 4-3 victory and was named the first star on Saturday when he turned aside 25 of 26 shots in a 2-1 win.
Those victories have Providence tied for fifth in a tight race in Hockey East and could finish anywhere from second to eighth place. If Providence ends the regular-season in sixth, seventh, or eighth place, they will host a one-game playoff on Mar. 8 at Schneider Arena. If they finish fifth or lower, they earn a bye to the best-of-three quarter-finals, which will begin on Mar. 14.
Their final two games against Maine will be pivotal and Gillies' teammates are confident in his abilities both in the regular season and heading forward in the postseason.
"He's fantastic," fellow Flames prospect Mark Jankowski said. "He was spectacular last season. He was our MVP, our best player, and he's continued it this year.
"He's definitely one of the best, if not the best goalie in the nation. So it's really great to have him on our side."
Last year, Yale was the 15th seed in the 16-team tournament and went on to win the NCAA Championship in Pittsburgh. At the start of the year, the Bulldogs weren't considered contenders but continual improvement throughout the season gave them momentum and ended up carrying them all the way to the Frozen Four.
Seeing that kind of success and the determination it took to get there has cemented the idea that any team can make that sort of run.
"That's the parity of college hockey right now," Leaman mused. "I believe just within our league that there are five or six teams that can get to the Frozen Four.
"And I believe we're one of those teams."