Not many freshmen have a lot of success at the NCAA Division I college hockey level. But Providence College goalie Jon Gillies did more than just have a successful freshman season, as he was one of the best goalies in the country.
“It is extremely difficult for a freshman to come in and succeed the way he has,” Providence coach Nate Leaman said.
“I have never seen a freshman perform this persistently game after game. We’re a young team, we make some mistakes, and he is certainly there to have our backs when we do.”
Gillies helped power Providence past New Hampshire in the Hockey East quarter-finals before the Friars were knocked off in the semi-finals by the eventual Frozen Four finalist UMass Lowell squad.
The South Portland, Maine native had a remarkable season, starting in every single game for Providence except when he was in Russia for the U20 World Junior Championship. Gillies was exceptional all season, posting a 2.08 goals-against average, a .931 save percentage, five shutouts, and a 17-12-6 record.
“Jon is consistently our best player on the ice, and he has given us a chance to win every [game].” Nate Leaman said. “I equate him to a 30-goal scorer because he is terrific. The hard part for him is going to be figuring out how to be even better next season.”
In the WJC, Gillies only played one period of hockey, in a win against Germany. But playing in the tournament gave him a chance to learn from one of the best goalies at the U20 level, John Gibson. Gillies will be eligible for Team USA once again next year.
“Even though I didn’t get to play much, I believe I came back a better goalie,” Gillies said about the WJC.
“Gibson is the best goalie, in the world, at the U20 level, and he showed everyone that in the tournament. He was the backbone of our team, and it was great to be able to learn from him. It was also just a great experience to participate in the tournament on and off the ice. It is a memory that I will cherish forever.”
Playing in a tournament like the WJC gives players a unique experience to play against some of the top players from around the world. Although his experience in game action was limited, there was still plenty Gillies took away from the tournament that helped his game down the stretch.
“He got to learn from a pretty good goalie (John Gibson) over there, and he also got to experience play at one of the highest levels, [which] was really good for him,” Leaman said.
Gillies added that, “[The tournament] helped my confidence. It was just an honor to be there. I had to represent our country well and be ready to play whenever I was called upon.”
The young goaltender was drafted in the third round by the Calgary Flames last June, so Gillies had the opportunity to attend the Flames prospect camp last summer. Like many players in his situation, he was able to take in a lot of useful information at the camp.
“It was a lot of fun,” Gillies said.
“Clint Malarchuk is the top goalie coach in the NHL, and he really showed me why. He showed me a lot of tips and helped me focus on the little details. He really stressed that paying attention to details is what separates the good goalies from the great goalies.”
Gillies plays against several Flames prospects including Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau. Gillies and Gaudreau were also teammates at the WJC, which has given the two a unique relationship of friend and foe.
“The one that is most fun to play against is Johnny [Gaudreau] because he is a magician with the puck,” Gillies said of playing other Flames prospects.
“You always have to be looking out for him. We built a really solid friendship through the World Junior Championship and Calgary camp last summer. It will be fun to play with him again down the road.”
Gillies didn’t have any expectations coming into this season, so that is something he will do going into next season, as well.
“I didn’t come in with any expectations for this season because all I wanted to do was be able to battle and give my team a chance to win every night,” Gillies said “There a lot of things that I can build off of for next season.”
Follow Rich Murray on Twitter via @Richie_Murray