Let’s be honest – the Calgary Flames have had a pretty rough time drafting and developing goalies over the past 10 to 15 years (or since Mike Vernon if you want to get technical). 2006 first round pick Leland Irving has quietly departed the organization, while recent history has names like Kevin Lalande, Matt Keetley, James Spratt, Curtis “McBackup” McElhinney and Andrei Medvedev as painful reminders of their inability to home grow netminders.
But things have seemingly turned around recently, with 2011 pick Laurent Brossoit likely joining the pro ranks this fall, European netminder Joni Ortio returning to North America from Finland and college sensation Jon Gillies looking to build upon an excellent freshman year.
In fact, Gillies has been cited by some observers as Calgary’s best prospect. With great numbers for Providence College, a World Junior gold medal from Ufa – and the inside track on the starting job for Team USA’s junior squad this winter in Sweden – Gillies is doing a good job acquitting himself as a developing goaltender. The 2012 third round choice of the Flames is entering his second year of a business management degree at P.C.
I had the opportunity to speak with the 6’4”, 220 pound native of Concord, New Hampshire at Calgary Flames development camp earlier this month.
Ryan Pike: Walk me through your last year. What was the experience like?
Jon Gillies: It was a whirlwind, that’s for sure. It was definitely a dream year. If anyone had told me I would’ve done that at the beginning of the year, I probably would’ve laughed in their face. But, I mean, step by step, at the beginning I didn’t know what to expect coming here. I hadn’t skated much and it was kind of a bit of a wake-up call, showing me where I needed to be at the pro level.
I went into school with the mindset that I was gonna work my hardest and give my team a chance to win every night, and I was successful in being able to do that, thankfully. I had great teammates in front of me and a great coaching staff with their belief in me, and World Juniors was unbelievable. I got to play a couple games there, exhibition, and one period. Watching John Gaudreau, what he did was unbelievable. I had a front-row seat, watching him dangle defensemen, going back-bar and in, stuff like that.
I also, even though I didn’t play I came back with a gold medal from that tournament because John Gibson is the best in the world, and I picked up little things that he does and stuff like that. That was fun. And we exceeded all expectations from a team standpoint with 13 freshmen. Nobody thought we were going to make the Hockey East tournament or anything like that, so definitely a stepping stone to build on this year.
Did you expect to be able to come in and be an everyday starter and a difference-maker for your college team?
In talking to them, I kind of knew the opportunity was there, and I mean, I didn’t have any expectations. The only thing I expected from myself was that when I was in there, I was gonna give my team a chance to win every night, I was going to compete, and that’s what I was able to do.
What are your expectations for this year? Obviously you want to have a better year than last year, but you set a pretty high benchmark to achieve last season.
Yeah, I don’t know if you can look at it like that. If you look at it like that, you’re probably not going to do as well. It’s going back to basics, going back to the same things that made you successful this year, which for me was giving my team a chance to win every night, competing in practice and in games, and focusing on my off-ice strength and my focus. It’s a high benchmark to try to supersede what I did last year, and I’m not going to try to do that. I’m just going to play my game.
Do you have a timeline in your head for your future? How are you going to know if you’re ready to leave college? Is it definitely going to be a four year commitment, or is it something you look at year-by-year?
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it at all that way. But I don’t really think about it too much because that’s out of my hands. The only thing I can control is how well I play and how well I develop. And when they feel I’m ready, I’ll go because they know best, and they have my best interests and their best interests in mind. But until then I’m going to help my Providence College teammates.
Is it helpful that the Flames have so many goalies under contract? There’s not much more room this year for goaltenders at the pro level, but maybe in the next couple years you’ll be keeping an eye on how many goalies have deals?
I’m not looking that far ahead. I’m just taking it one day at a time right now. There’s going to be a good battle up there in Abbotsford with Reto [Berra] and Joni [Ortio], and even at the top level with Joey MacDonald and Karri Ramo. It’s gonna be fun to see how it plays out.