Flames’ Jon Gillies puts on a show in 1st game of 2016

For hotshot Calgary Flames goaltender Jon Gillies, Friday night’s 4-1 Flames win over the Winnipeg Jets at the Penticton Young Stars Tournament was just about getting his head and his body back into it. Talking to him after the game though, it seemed that what he was most excited about wasn’t the victory, or the fact that he’d performed well in his first game of the 2016 calendar year.

“I made a standing breakaway save!” Gillies exclaimed, basically unprompted, post-game.

If Gillies’ standing save was a throwback, it was an oddly appropriate one for his first game back from hip impingement surgery. 

It is, after all, the unique physical demands placed on the hip joint of the modern hockey goaltender – an issue exacerbated by relatively new techniques like the butterfly and a variety of post-integration positions – that partially caused the stress that Gillies needed surgery to correct. From Tim Thomas to Pekka Rinne to Anthony Stolarz to Thatcher Demko, hip impingement surgery has become the goaltending version of what Tommy John surgery is for pitchers in baseball. The good news is that players make it back, and are better off for it. The hard part is the length of time the recovery takes.

For Gillies, a 6-foot-6, 22-year-old puck stopper, the injury wiped out his first season of professional hockey. Though he underwent the procedure late in 2015, he still wasn’t right until late this past summer. Until mid-August, Gillies’ hip still felt stiff. It still clicked, it still caught. He often couldn’t stand after workouts. 

On Friday night though, Gillies looked every bit his old self. His technique, extremely advanced for a 22-year-old, was on point. He made 22 saves on 23 Jets shots, and the only mistake he made came early in the contest.

“I was off my angle and he looked up right as I was about to re-adjust and right away I knew I was screwed,” Gillies recalled after Friday night’s win. “He made a good shot, probably would’ve had it anyway.

“Obviously I want that one back for our team,” Gillies continued, “but you knew that was going to happen, I knew I was going to be rusty and that it was going to take a little time.”

The goal was the only blemish on Gillies’ return to competitive action. Facing shooters in a game situation for the first time in 10 months, the young Flames netminder quickly found his game. It probably helped that the team in front of him kept things relatively tidy, but Gillies was still stellar in the second period, robbing Brendan Lemieux and Connor twice with a trio of excellent saves. The Connor saves, in particular, drew a reaction and a round of applause from the crowd at the South Okanagan Events Center.

Though Gillies was most eager to talk about his standing save on Connor’s breakaway, his save on a Connor power-play wrist shot was every bit as good. He downplayed that loud glove stop though, suggesting that the defensive coverage in front of him was excellent and that he dressed it up.

“That was the only place he had to shoot, our defense took a
great job taking away the short side,” Gillies said. “I just put a little flare into it.”

That Gillies wasn’t just making saves, but was playing the part of the showman is perhaps the most promising part. It was a long recovery process, but he feels like himself again. Actually, he feels even better.

“The biggest thing is the flexibility,” GIllies said. “The
flexibility was actually still there for me (before the surgery) but it’s the
way you feel when you’re in there, the power that you feel when you’re in those
positions. It’s night and day.”

  • Just.Visiting

    I really like him.

    He uses his size well and seems to use very good positioning. He also seems to play with an intelligence and quiet confidence that makes the rest of the team more confident. This is truly a difference maker for goalies.

    Here’s hoping he’s the Calgary Flames’ version of Ken Dryden.

    In that regard, one of the things that crossed my mind during the Anaheim series when it was apparent that we were going to lose was whether we should have started him.

    It brought back memories of the Montreal cup run in the spring of 1971, when no one gave Montreal a chance against Boston.