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by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
Trevor Gillies may be a 31-year-old NHL rookie, but the heavyweight is an American Hockey League veteran who first broke into the minor leagues during the 1999-00 season. It wasn’t until last season that the Islanders gave the notorious enforcer the opportunity he'd been working towards; an NHL contract. He signed as a free agent on January 28, 2010 and in 14 games, Gillies made a name for himself on Long Island.

Known mostly for dropping the gloves (75 penalty minutes last season) with the toughest opponents, the other side of Gillies is not something fans often get to see.

“Just like any other player, I have goals too,” said Gillies who notched one assist with the Islanders last season. “My goals aren’t to score zero goals this season. I would like to try to put up a few this year. My goal to start is five and I’d be happy with one or two, but I have to get on the board first. So I’m just going to work as hard as I can and try to get better everyday.”

Trevor Gillies #14 of the New York Islanders skates against the Philadelphia Flyers during the game at the Nassau Coliseum on November 6, 2010 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Andy Marlin/AM Photography)
In 12 games this season, Gillies has averaged 2:09 on the ice, taken 28 penalty minutes and recorded two shots on net. While he may not receive the most ice time, Gillies is determined to try his hardest and make the best of every shift he plays.

“He’s shooting the puck a little quicker off his stride,” said Islanders Skills Development Coach Bernie Cassell. “There’s not that hesitation. He’s setting the puck up a little bit quicker so he’s able to snap it because here you need to get it to the net as quickly as possible and he’s doing a better job at that.”

Much of that improvement is from all the extra skills training that Gillies has been putting in on the ice 23 minutes before every practice and after practice to work with Cassell. He’s always working hard, even after the whistle blows to end the game.

“I love working with Bernie,” Gillies said. “I wish I had somebody like that helping me when I was younger. So it’s real nice and it’s pretty cool that the Islanders have that resource for any of us who want to use him, but I plan on taking advantage of it and everyday that he’s here, I’ll be out there with him.”

Even though he’s on the older side of rookie status, Gillies still has areas of his game where he’d like to make improvements.
“I work on my power skating, edge control, my shot, puck control, protecting the puck, just all kinds of little things that are going to help me,” Gillies said.

“Gillies runs the gamut,” said Cassell. “He likes to work on everything. He’s a hard worker. He’s out there early everyday. He stays late. He’s fun to work with because he’ll try anything. He says, ‘hey, if you think it’s going to help me, let’s do it.’ ”

The forward mostly understands that he needs to take things in strides and that improvements come in small increments.

“It’s not like all of a sudden I’m going to be stick handling like John Tavares or anything, but it’s just all little things,” Gillies said. “I already have a little bit more confidence with the puck. My minutes aren’t always going to be high, but when I do get a chance I want to try and get some scoring chances for the boys.”

Since starting his skills training with Cassell during Training Camp, Gillies has already started to see his hard work pay off. Most recently, he was excited about a good scoring opportunity he had against Ottawa. But Cassell has also noticed Gillies improve in more areas that just his shot.

“It’s his positioning of his body, like keeping his shoulders square, having the puck and his head kind of lead him,” Cassell said. “He’ll turn his head and the puck at the same time, get the puck in front of him and that makes him square. That’s huge because that means he has better balance and also if he gets hit while he’s making a play, he’ll be a lot stronger on his skates.”

“But I’m expecting as we chip away a little bit more around the net with some rebound type drills, when it comes to game time he’ll put it up under the crossbar for a rebound goal potentially,” Cassell continued. “We just started working on those a few weeks ago so hopefully he can bang one in there.”

In 354 career AHL games, Gillies scored 7 goals and 14 assists. In that same span, the 6’3” 227-pound lefty took 1,471 penalty minutes. If you average that out, Gillies has taken more than four penalty minutes per game that he’s played in the AHL.

It would be seven years after his AHL debut before the left wing made his NHL debut with the then Mighty Ducks of Anaheim on November 6, 2005 against the Minnesota Wild. In that one game, he took 21 penalty minutes.

But Gillies is committed to adding depth to his game. He's preparing for any moment that he can capitalize on and create an opportunity the teams needs. That, is the man behind the 'stache.
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