Gillard adjusting to life in the AJHL

By Marc Ciampa

Rookie St. Albert Saints netminder Tom Gillard is starting to come of age in
the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

Before training camp even started, Gillard was the odds-on favourite to win
the open goaltending spot on the roster. It was vacated by the departing
Scott Kabotoff, who accepted a scholarship to join the University of
Wisconsin following last season.

Gillard spent last season with the Maple Leaf Athletic Club (Midget AAA). He
backstopped the MLAC to a solid fourth-place finish, with 11 wins, 9 losses,
a 4.40 GAA and a .885 save percentage.

Given the high expectations, he has not disappointed. Gillard struggled in
the early part of the season, but so did the entire Saints club as they
stumbled out of the gate with a 4-14 record.

He did earn his first career AJHL victory in his first start, however. On
September 20th he stopped 31 shots and backstopped the Saints to a 3-1 win
over the Bonnyville Pontiacs. Not surprisingly, he was named the game’s
first star.

Right now Gillard’s action in the net has been limited-only 11 starts in 30
games-but Gillard relishes every opportunity he gets between the pipes.

“I’m happy to play good and help the team out,” said Gillard.

Gillard’s numbers have not accurately reflected his play this season. He’s
been there to make the big save, but the Saints have struggled at times and
left him vulnerable, sometimes facing up to 50 or 60 shots in a game. He has
a goals-against average of 5.13 in 14 games, a .873 save percentage as well
as a 4-8-0 win-loss record.

“It’s been pretty tough. It wasn’t really just myself that was down, it was
the whole team,” Gillard said. “I’m just trying to stay positive and lead by
example and make the most of my starts when I get them and and try and
contribute to the team.”

Recently the team has started to rally, though. Gillard was a large part of
a highly-successful five-game homestand during which the team’s only loss
was to the juggernaut Fort McMurray Oil Barons. Gillard was the starting
goaltender in three of the four wins, including a 4-2 victory over the Olds
Grizzlys during which he made 45 stops.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had a big win like that,” said Gillard after
the Saints downed the Grizzlys.

The rookie netminder’s composure in net has not gone unnoticed. “A lot of
times its not really how many saves your goalie makes, its the saves when
you need him to make them that will change the momentum of the game. Tom
made the saves he had to make and the saves that he should’ve made and that
gave us a big boost on the bench,” said head coach Gordie Stafford after the
game against Olds.

Thanks in large part to the steadying play of Gillard and Saints starting
goaltender Kirby Millar, the team is on the upswing. They are currently ten
points up on the Sherwood Park Crusaders for the final playoff spot in the
Cantel AT&T North Division, but Gillard feels that the team has higher
aspirations.

“I think by Christmas time this is going to be a great hockey club and we’re
going to push it up higher than that. We’re going to be a force by the end
of the year.”

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