As one dream is fulfilled, a new one takes its place.
After putting pen to paper on a three-year, entry-level contract with the Florida Panthers last week, defenseman Max Gildon took the life-changing moment as an opportunity to not only reminisce on the steps he took to get there, but also peer into the future at the new road ahead.
"It's a childhood dream," Gildon recently told FloridaPanthers.com. "There's still a lot of work to do for me to get to the NHL, but this is a good step in the right direction. I take [the contract] as a responsibility. I want to play well, but I need to do things the right way in order to do that."
A third-round pick (66th overall) in the 2017 NHL Draft, Gildon spent three seasons "growing a lot on and off the ice" while fine-tuning his two-way game at the University of New Hampshire before making the decision that it was time to finally move on and join the professional ranks.
Leading the school's defensemen in scoring each season, Gildon recorded 73 points (21 goals, 52 assists) over 101 career games with the Wildcats. Showing off his scoring touch as the point man on the team's top power-play unit, 13 of those 21 goals came while on the man advantage.
"It was an awesome place for me to develop," Gildon said. "I made some lifelong friends and had a great time. I owe a lot to the coaches and the staff and all my teammates there. I had a great experience. I'd recommend college to any hockey player looking to make that next step."
In his final tour of the NCAA, Gildon, who stands 6-foot-3 and 191 pounds, earned a spot on the Hockey East Third All-Star Team after posting seven goals and 22 assists. Additionally, his 29 points, which currently stand as career-high, also ranked 11th in the nation among defensemen.
Gildon was also named one of 78 finalists for the 2020 Hobey Baker Memorial Award, which is given annually to the NCAA player that best "exhibits strength of character both on and off the ice."
"Max was able to develop here at UNH both on and off the ice and realized his ultimate goal of signing an NHL contract," UNH head coach Mike Souza said in the school's official release. "As a result of his efforts, the Florida Panthers are getting a prospect with unlimited potential."
When asked to sum up his experience at UNH, Gildon quickly glossed over a few big games -- rivalry nights against Maine, overtime wins and matchups against fellow Panthers prospect at schools like Boston College - before eventually settling on two themes that encapsulated it all.
Discipline and hard work.
"The college schedule isn't easy, with school, practice and everything like that," Gildon said. "So being able to balance those sort of things and work through just working hard at everything you do was something that the coaches really instilled in me. My teammates were there to help me along the way and keep me accountable. Overall, it was all really an awesome experience."
As for when he'll embark on his next experience, that's still up in the air.
With the world on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gildon is currently practicing social distancing with his family at their home in Plano, Texas. That being said, the 20-year-old has been keeping himself very busy, working out and taking some online courses through UNH.
But unlike some of the other prospects within Florida's system, Gildon is lucky enough to be quarantined with a fellow hockey player -- his younger brother Michael, who is coming off his freshman season at Ohio State University. Together, the two have developed a nice routine.
Taking parts of various workouts they've learned from trainers over the years while "working with what they have" around the house, they've managed to develop a rather effective regime.
"We're helping each other out and working out, getting programs, collecting weights and stuff that we have throughout the house and making the best of it as we can," Max said of working with Michael, who plays at forward for the Buckeyes.
"He's obviously one of my best friends. It's awesome to actually get to spend some time with him. We've both been away with hockey these past four or five years or whatever. It's nice to get some family time and spend some time with him."
Gildon said he's also been keeping his mind sharp by watching his old games and highlights.
"The grind never really stops," he said. "It's fun."
Looking at the road ahead, Gildon said he's eager to get back to work once current restrictions have been lifted and things start to get back to normal around the world. He's looking forward to catching up with other established prospects in Florida, as well as getting to know the new ones.
And although his pro career is only just beginning, he looks forward to the challenge ahead.
"Guys that I'll be competing with at the next level are supremely skilled and can play both ways," Gildon said. "It's going to be a challenge and I'm really looking forward to it. I see myself as a guy that can help the Panthers down the road, and I'm looking forward to proving that."
*Photo Courtesy of Jessica Speechley, University of New Hampshire Photographer*