Jon Gillies doesn’t look or act like a rookie for the Stockton Heat.
The 21-year-old goaltender is calm and poised while defending the net for the Calgary Flames’ AHL affiliate, and he doesn’t get rattled by the big moments. He is also a leader in the locker room for a team that is playing its first season in Northern California.
But, that shouldn’t surprise observers that have watched Gillies closely.
The Concord, New Hampshire native was a workhorse for Providence College the past three seasons. He appeared in 108 games and won 60, while never posting a save percentage below .930 during a collegiate season.
During his junior season, Gillies helped lead Providence to the 2015 NCAA title. He stopped 49 shots in a 4-3 victory against Boston University and was named the Frozen Four’s Most Outstanding Player.
“It was good way to end my college career, couldn’t have been a better finish, right?” Gillies said, with a laugh.
Gillies signed his first professional contract soon after the Frozen Four. A third-round pick, 75th overall, in 2012 by the Flames, Gillies said he wasn’t planning on turning professional during his junior season.
“It wasn’t really a plan, I was just kind of letting things happen as they developed,” Gillies said. “I’ve always been a person that tried not to look too far ahead.”
It could have been difficult for Gillies to stick to that mantra when he was forced to miss all of NHL training camp with Calgary due to a concussion.
“That was tough,” Gillies said. “It was supposed be my first NHL training camp and I was looking forward to it. But then I had to miss it, which was really frustrating. Thankfully, I was able to get going and get ready to start the season here (with Stockton).”
And Gillies was immediately thrust into the fire — pun intended — as the Flames’ brass are interested to see what the goalie can accomplish.
Gillies started all six games for Stockton in the month of October and posted a 2-3-1 record to go along with a .916 save percentage and a 2.45 goals-against average.
It was a crash course in professional hockey. While the college game was a high level, Gillies has learned that AHL competition consists of deeper rosters and even fourth-line players can beat you with a quick shot.
“The main thing I’ve noticed is everyone knows where to be,” Gillies said. “You get some younger guys in college. But here it’s a very structured game. Everyone knows what their job is and being detailed in their jobs to get it done.”
And it’s been a search to find consistency in his first professional season.
He opened his career with a 19-save shutout against the Rockford IceHogs and blanked the Texas Stars in a 36-save whitewashing in his third appearance. But in games following shutouts he allowed four and five goals, and was pulled before the third period of a loss to the San Antonio Rampage.
“I knew there would be ups and downs,” Gillies said. “I’m learning that and I’m working on being the same goalie every game.”
Follow Sean Shapiro on Twitter via @seanshapiro