2013-01-18 / Community

Jon Gillies brings home gold

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

Providence College freshman goaltender Jon Gillies, a South Portland native, was a member of the USA team that won the gold medal at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championships. The gold was the USA’s first since 2010 and the just its third in the 40-year history of the tournament. (courtesy photo) Providence College freshman goaltender Jon Gillies, a South Portland native, was a member of the USA team that won the gold medal at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championships. The gold was the USA’s first since 2010 and the just its third in the 40-year history of the tournament. (courtesy photo) UFA, RUSSIA — Jon Gillies stood on the blue line of Ufa Arena in Russia, Saturday, Jan. 5, gold medal draped around his neck, belting out the National Anthem.

Gillies, a South Portland native, was the primary backup goaltender for the United States team at the 2013 International Ice Hockey World Junior Championship. The U.S. won the gold medal over nine other nations made up of the world’s premier young hockey players younger than 20. It was America’s first gold since 2010.

“We were just on top of the world. Speechless, we were so excited,” Gillies said. “It was an unbelievable experience for everyone. It was a great accomplishment.”

On the blue line, Gillies draped his arm across the shoulder of one of his best friends, Sean Kuraly. Kuraly and Gillies were teammates for two years on the Indiana Ice, a United States Hockey League junior team. They went to high school together in Indianapolis, Ind. before leaving for their respective colleges, Kuraly to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and Gillies to Providence College in Rhode Island.

A few feet down the line of USA players, a one-time enemy of Gillies’ sang the anthem with the rest of the team. Johnny Gaudreau was one of the key players for team USA, scoring seven goals in the tournament to lead the squad. About a month before the players came to Russia, Gaudreau assisted on a goal, then scored one of his own, to help Boston College earn a 3-3 tie in Providence against Gillies and the Friars.

However, any previous ills seemed to dissipate for the USA players in Ufa, and Gillies said the team gelled as a unit despite their abbreviated time together. The players met on Sunday, Dec. 16 at the training facility for the New York Rangers in Tarrytown, N.Y., flew ot to Russia and, less than two weeks later, played their first tournament game against Germany.

Ufa is a city in southeast Russia with a population OF just over 1 MILLION. Gillies said the city fit into an image of Russia many may already have: freezing cold weather and locals who don’t speak any English but smoke plenty of cigarettes. Forward Alex Galchenyuk, who was born in Milwaukee to Russian parents, served as the team’s translator, Gillies said.

Gillies’ only game action came in the USA’s blowout win over Germany in its first game. With the team up 6-0, and another game ahead against host nation Russia the following night, head coach Phil Housley pulled starter John Gibson in the third period.

Gillies made seven saves and thwarted a 5-on-3 in the USA’s 8-0 win, but he said the tournament experience was more valuable as a chance to learn from another goalie than it was for time on the ice.

Starting goaltender John Gibson allowed just two goals combined in the USA’s final three games: the quarterfinal, semifinal and gold medal wins over the Czech Republic, Canada and Sweden. Gibson, from Pittsburgh, was selected 39th overall in the 2011 NHL Draft by the Anaheim Ducks, and currently plays in Canada.

“He’s an older guy and has had success everywhere he’s gone in his career. It was more watching him on and off the ice and picking things up,” Gillies said.

Providence College head coach Nate Leaman said it wasn’t easy losing Gillies, his starting goaltender, for three games, but he knew Gillies would take advantage of the opportunity to improve.

“I wanted him not to be a bystander,” Leaman said. “I told him, ‘If you’re not in net for a game, don’t just sit around. Practice. Get a lift in. Find ways to improve.’”

Gillies missed three games for Providence College, and the team gave up 12 total goals in a loss and two ties.

“Obviously, we missed him, but I thought it was a chance for our team to grow. Mistakes we got away with with Jon in net, we weren’t going to get away with,” Leaman said.

Gillies said being away for a month was difficult, but in retrospect, worth it.

“I never want to leave my team. It was kind of a helpless feeling watching the scores. In the end, I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything,” Gillies said.

Gillies leads the Hockey East conference with 1.95 goals against, but Leaman said the real work lies ahead for the Friars. Providence College has 14 conference games remaining, half of which will come against the top three in the Hockey East standings: Boston College, Boston University and the University of New Hampshire.

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