2012-07-13 / Front Page

Jon Gillies keeps cool in new role

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

South Portland native Jon Gillies will play for the Providence College hockey team in the fall after he was selected in the third round of the NHL Draft by the Calgary Flames. (photo courtesy of Whiteshark Photography) South Portland native Jon Gillies will play for the Providence College hockey team in the fall after he was selected in the third round of the NHL Draft by the Calgary Flames. (photo courtesy of Whiteshark Photography) It’s tough to rattle Jon Gillies. The 18-year-old goaltender and South Portland native has had to keep cool in plenty of stressful situations on the ice, but the NHL Draft can make even the most composed athletes squirm as they wait for their name to be called as picks are announced one by one.

Not Jon, however.

“I was probably more nervous than him. He’s a pretty cool customer,” said his father, Bruce Gillies.

Jon said he was looking at a text message on his phone when the Calgary Flames announced they had selected him in the third round with the 75th overall pick in the NHL Draft.

“We nudged him pretty hard ... we had to say ‘Get up there,’” Bruce said.

Jon did get on stage in Pittsburgh to don the Flames uniform in front of his dad, mom Debbie Gillies, brother Cameron Gillies and a few friends. When he did, he was able to enjoy a moment that every kid who has ever laced up skates on a frozen pond thinks about, but very few actually get to enjoy.

After just two weeks at home in South Portland, on July 8, it was back to work. Jonboardeda5a.m.flightandmadehis first trip to western Canada to attend Calgary’s prospect development camp. When that wraps up, Gillies will travel to Lake Placid, N.Y. in August for USA Hockey’s Junior Evaluation Camp, where he will hope to earn a spot on the national team in next year’s World Junior Tournament.

Jon said reaching this point “has always been the goal. That’s the goal for most kids who start playing hockey,” but he really began thinking about professional hockey as a realistic career in 2009, when he left Maine for the first time to play in a prep school league at Salisbury School in Connecticut.

After just a year at Salisbury, Jon was invited to training camp for the Indiana Ice of the United States Hockey League, the top junior hockey league in the country. He earned a spot on the team.

Although going to Indiana meant Jon had to move away from his family, take bus trips to cities such as Sioux City, Iowa and Dubuque, Wis. — and do it all while juggling the responsibilities of school — he took the chance to play against a higher level of competition.

“You have to take risks, and that’s what I did,” Jon said.

Bruce said he and his wife understood their son had to be challenged every year to keep developing his talent. For goaltenders, Bruce said, mental toughness is especially important, and as a young goalie develops his skills he needs to face tough forwards and avoid adopting a mentality of being “afraid to lose.” Although Bruce acknowledged it was tough to have Jon play hundreds of miles away, he said, “It would have been wrong to hold him back.”

Bruce knows a few things about playing goaltender at a high level. He played the position at the University of New Hampshire from 1980 to 1985 and went on to a brief career in professional hockey. Now, he supports a son who has followed in his footsteps.

“He’s always had my back. He’s been so supportive and so helpful,” Jon said about his father.

Jon is a third-generation goalie, as Bruce’s father played in net for Norwich University in Vermont. Jon’s uncle Chris Gillies also was a goalie at the University of Denver, and there are even goalies on his mom’s side of the family. Debbie’s nephew, Jason Braun, was a goaltender for Northeastern University in Boston in the late 1990s.

Bruce said Jon tried both forward and goalie at a young age, but “it was easier for him to migrate toward the net because of the history of my family and my wife’s family.”

Jon will continue the family tradition of playing college hockey in New England in the Hockey East conference. He will attend Providence College in the fall to play for the Friars and second-year coach Nate Leaman.

“Jon is a 6-foot 5 goaltender, which you don’t see very often. More importantly he’s a very athletic 6-5, and you hardly ever see that,” Leaman said.

The coach said that Jon will have the opportunity to start for the Friars right away, and when asked what he hopes the freshman goalie can add to the squad, Leaman responded, “What we hope he brings is to help us win a championship.” The Friars have not won Hockey East’s postseason conference tournament since 1996.

Jon briefly considered joining the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League instead of attending college. But the “maturity aspect,” as he called it, is what tipped the scales in Providence’s favor. While the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League features elite talent, (Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins is just one alum in the pros), college hockey will give Gillies the chance to improve and get the off-ice training he needs for four years, instead of just two in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League .

Leaman also stressed the importance of Jon’s maturation process. He thinks the goalie can help the team win right away, but said it will be important for Jon to work to improve throughout his time at Providence.

“Goaltender is a very competitive position. Most goaltenders don’t start to peak until they’re 23 or 24. With (Jon) it’s about getting better every day, getting better every month, every year, and working hard all the time,” Leaman said.

If he can continue to improve, Jon hopes he can model the career of his favorite NHL player: Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings. Quick was also a thirdround draft pick from New England who played in Hockey East for University of Massachusetts

Jon hopes the comparisons don’t stop there. Last month, the Kings defeated the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Final, and Quick won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

On stage in Pittsburgh last month, Jon achieved a goal of every kid that plays hockey, but as Quick showed in Los Angeles last month, there is always more work to do.

Staff Writer Jack Flagler can be reached at 282-4337 ext. 219.

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