June 27, 2012

Gillies recaps thrilling experience at draft

By Shawn Hutcheon

The 2012 National Hockey League Entry Draft has come and gone. It has been analyzed every possible way by anyone and everyone who is a fan of the game, not to mention the countless blogs and articles in newspapers, magazines and websites by members of the media. The interviews have been conducted with members of each NHL organization along with every player who was selected. 

Indiana Ice goalie Jon Gillies (South Portland, Maine) was selected 75th overall by the Flames. (Getty Images)

But what is it really like to be the one waiting to hear his name called?

South Portland, Maine’s Jon Gillies was in that position in Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center during draft weekend. The Indiana Ice goaltender sat in the seats knowing his name would be called. It was just a matter of when.

“I knew I wasn’t going to be taken in the first round, which was on Friday night, but I drove from Maine to Pittsburgh with my family Thursday,” Gillies said. “We drove all day and arrived around 8 o’clock at night. We went to dinner then to our hotel.”

For the players expecting to become members of NHL organizations, time is not wasted while attending the draft.

“Friday morning the league held an orientation where we had classes, like how to interact with the media,” Gillies said. “We ended around lunch time. After having lunch with friends that I invited to Pittsburgh with me, I spent some time with my family.”

The 18-year-old puck-stopper arrived at the arena at 5:30 that night looking forward to seeing friends get selected in first round.

“On Friday night, after it was announced that Calgary had traded first round picks with Buffalo, I correctly predicted the Flames would take Mark Jankowski,” said Gillies. “He and I are going to be teammates at Providence College”.

The remainder of the evening was one of relaxed anticipation.  

“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Gillies explained. “I knew I wasn’t going to be taken until Saturday so I had nothing to be nervous about, plus I had done everything that needed to be done during the season. The draft itself was out of my control.”

The following day was the big one for Gillies and his family. The netminder exhibited his excitement when he spoke to a former teammate.

“I sat next to Robbie Baillargeon (Enfield, Conn.),” he said. “We were teammates with the Ice and are best friends. I looked over at him and said, ‘Can you believe we’re here?’ It was somewhat surreal at that point.”  

The second day of the draft was a very good one for players with New England ties. Twelve such players were chosen that day.

“Brian Hart (Cumberland, Maine, 53rd overall to Tampa Bay) and Sam Kurker (Reading, Mass., 56th to St. Louis) went in the second round. We all played together when we were kids. It was great to see them chosen,” Gillies said.

It was not long after North Reading, Mass., native Jim Vesey was chosen by the San Jose Sharks at No. 66 that the moment Jon Gillies had worked towards all of his life had arrived

With the 75th overall selection, the Calgary Flames called his name.

“I was looking down at my phone and didn’t hear anything except my name,” Gillies said. “My dad gave me a hug and my mom began crying. I had to ask them what team chose me. I had no clue Calgary was going to choose me.”

What followed was a whirlwind of activity for Calgary’s newest goaltender, and his friends and family.

“I went down to the Flames table down on the arena floor where I was given a new Calgary jersey and hat. I put them on right away. It was an unexplainable experience and feeling,” said Gillies. “I met all of the scouts, general manager Jay Feaster and coach Bob Hartley. They were great to me.”

Asked if the Flames coach said anything to him, the goalie replied, “He said, ‘Hello, welcome to the Flames. I hope I get the chance to coach you.’”

With the Flames being a Canadian-based franchise, it was only natural that Gillies would immediately face a deluge of questions from the Calgary media.

“They asked if I knew anything about the city. I told them I’ve never been there but I’ve heard it’s beautiful,” Gillies said enthusiastically. “They also asked if I like Canada and of course I said that I do. Why not? It’s Canada and everything is hockey there.”

After handling the media’s questions with aplomb, Jon, his friends and his family were invited to watch the remainder of the draft in the Flames’ suite. There, he met the other Calgary draft picks and came away very impressed with the organization.

“Everyone was great and fun to talk with,” he said.

The Calgary Flames are equally impressed with their new, young netminder.

“Well, when I’m scouting goalies, I like them big. I watched Jon all year and with his big size and his style, he has a lot of poise,” Flames amateur scout Jim Cummins told ushl.com. “He’s athletic. He’s quick, side to side. I just think he’s a tremendous goalie prospect.”

Calgary fans will get their first look at that prospect when Gillies attends the Flames Development Camp July 8-13 in Calgary. The netminder is looking forward to his first taste of the NHL.

“I’m training for it in Saco, Maine. I’m going to have fun,” Gillies answered when asked about the upcoming Development Camp, “It will be a whole new experience. I’m just going to listen to everything they tell me and soak it all in.”

Asked if the buildup to the draft was worth the wait, Gillies replied, “Oh yeah, it’s kind of nice to have the process over and know where you’re going.”

Although after meeting with the media, the goaltender learned that had Calgary passed over him, he was destined for a different Canadian location.

“A scout from the Ottawa Senators told me they were planning on choosing me with the 76th pick but the Flames took me with the 75th,” Gillies said of what might have been. “In fact, the Senators tried to trade up in order to get me but the deal couldn’t be made. That was very flattering, but I’m really happy to be a Flame.”

Gillies will head to Providence College in the fall and concentrate on helping the Friars win as many games as possible while continuing to work on his own game.

“(Providence College) coach Leaman was at the draft and he’s pretty fired up,” said Gillies. “We have a great relationship already.”

The NHL Entry Draft is what every boy dreams about after he laces up his skates and plays in his first game. For Gillies, who experienced that sought-after thrill of being drafted this past weekend, it’s now one dream down and plenty more to go, as he hopes a successful run at Providence and a stellar career in the National Hockey League lie ahead. 

Shawn Hutcheon can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ShawnHutcheon.