When the Calgary Flames drafted Jon Gillies out of the United States Hockey League in 2012, hopes were high given his strong numbers and ginormous frame. Then he went to a strong NCAA conference, Hockey East, and dominated. He posted gaudy numbers for three straight seasons and capped off his amateur career with an NCAA national championship win.
Hopes were high for the young netminder, and as such there was much disappointment when his first pro season was derailed by season-ending hip surgery. After chatting with Gillies at Flames training camp, here’s a handy bit of context: he put up those insane college numbers while battling his injury.
“Two and a half years, right up until the day of surgery,” said Gillies, recalling initially being injured early in his sophomore season. What’s different for him now? “It’s just everything’s back to normal and equal now. When it’s your left hip and you don’t have a lot of power in that because of your injury, when you’re going left to right you might have to reach more and stuff like that, whereas when it’s right-to-left you can be compact and stay tight with more fluid movements because that leg’s fine. It’s just different things like that, learning how to manage it.”
Considering Gillies was working through the injury for two and a half years, you’d expect him to be stoked to be pain-free now. Well, the habitually even-keeled goalkeeper seems upbeat, but downplayed his excitement about being able to play hockey at 100%.
“I think anyone that knows me, I don’t get too over-excited about anything,” said Gillies. “It’s just trying to stay even-keel. I’ve been taught that since I was a young kid. It’s definitely going to be nice to just be in the normal swing of things, not have to be doing treatments or different things like that hopefully and just be normal again.”
If anything, the aspect of being fully healthy that appeals the most to Gillies is being able to be a full member of the team again. He noted the mental grind of the season when not being able to practice with the rest of the team, but did note that he spent a lot of time paying attention to the finer points of off-ice work (such as conditioning) when he wasn’t playing.
The Flames have a clear goaltending plan for 2016-17 – Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson – but beyond this season the organization’s plan is unclear. A lot of the team’s future goaltending plans, both short and long-term, hinge upon Gillies. Does he have an eye on a job in Calgary in the near future?
“I don’t pay attention to that stuff, I just try to stop the puck,” said Gillies. “Whether it’s in Calgary or Stockton, that’s my job. Whatever team I’m on, whichever guys I’m with, I’m pretty familiar with both groups now thankfully, because I was rehabbing here in Calgary… It’s just trying to put my team in the best position to win, whichever net I’m in. That doesn’t matter to me. Nothing else matters to me.”
For the time being, the plan seems to be forming a tandem in Stockton this season with Czech veteran David Rittich. Gillies admittedly is a bit unfamiliar with Rittich, aside from a brief meeting in July, but is looking forward to him and Rittich pushing each other.
“Competition breeds success. It’s good for everyone, so it’s gonna be a fun year.”