Maybe Providence freshman Jon Gillies wasn’t born with a goalie stick, a mask and pads in his cradle.
But it wouldn’t have been unusual if that was the case.
After all, his grandfather, Bruce Sr., played goal at Norwich; his father, Bruce, played goal at New Hampshire; his uncle, Chris, played goal at Denver; and his mother Debbie’s nephew Jason Braun played goal at Northeastern.
“It was a lot about family ties,” said Gillies, who was the sixth-ranked goalie in NHL Central Scouting’s final 2012 draft ratings. “When I walked into our house the only pictures I saw were of my dad playing goal.
“Once, when I visited my uncle [Chris] in Colorado, I was able to watch Patrick Roy play. When I got home, I asked my mom to get a poster of him and I’ve had it ever since.
– Jon Gillies
“I always wanted to watch goalies,” Gillies continued. “Even at a young age I knew I wasn’t just playing for my dad. I was playing because I wanted to do it.”
Through his first six games for the Friars, Gillies is playing the position extremely well.
His goals against average is a microscopic 1.72; his save percentage is .938; and last Saturday he recorded his first collegiate shutout as he made 27 saves in a 3-0 victory over Maine.
“I think the big advantage [of having so many goalies in the family] is in his father he has somebody he can speak to about the position,” Providence coach Nate Leaman said. “I know Jon has a tight relationship with his father and I’m sure they talk goaltending all the time.
“That’s a great resource for a young man. As a young goaltender, you want as many people as possible to speak with about your position.”
Young Gillies certainly had a lot to talk about last season when he played for the USHL’s Indiana Ice because he led all goalies in wins (31), minutes played and shots faced (over 1,600).
But playing in the USHL is one thing. Playing in Hockey East is another.
“It’s definitely been a leap in terms of the pace of the game and the release times,” Gillies said. “I was fortunate to be able to go to the USHL as a junior. It enabled me to step in as a true freshman and it enabled me to prepare for this level.
“I thank the Indiana coaches for that.”
Ironically, Gillies had an opportunity to play this season for one of the all-time great goalies — Roy — who’s the head coach of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Quebec Remparts.
“I visited Quebec the weekend before graduation,” Gillies said. “It was an unbelievable experience sitting in a room with Patrick Roy and having him taking me around the rink.
“But coming down to Providence was just as unbelievable. It probably was the toughest decision I’ve had to make. It didn’t come down to the coaches. It came down to two routes — the NCAA route or the Quebec junior route.
“School always was important in my family,” Gillies continued. “Plus, my biggest weakness is off-ice strength due to a lack of training over the years. The NCAA route appealed to me in that regard and staying in school for four years was big for my family.”
At the risk of stating the obvious, it also was big for Leaman, who’s trying to resurrect a program that had fallen on hard times.
“I’ve been impressed with two things about Jon,” Leaman said. “One is that he’s pretty calm in net. A lot of things don’t faze him and the team has gained a lot of confidence in Jon over the first six games we’ve played especially given our level of competition. That’s been a big plus.
“Secondly, there’s his consistency from game to game which as a freshman has been very good. Sometimes you see a freshman have a good game and a bad game, and then a good game and a bad game. But Jon’s been good every game. I can’t look back and say I’ve been disappointed in any goals he’s allowed.
“To me,” Leaman continued,” anything over .920 [save percentage] in college hockey is very good. And Jon’s is .938 through his first six games.”
In retrospect, the first three weeks of practice proved to be invaluable for Gillies.
“During the first three weeks of skill sessions and practice, he was making that adjustment of getting to the top of the crease,” Leaman said. “Since he’s done that, he’s become more confident and can rely on his athleticism more because he’s playing up there.
“Obviously, Jon is an elite goaltender for his age . That’s why he was selected for the World Junior team. He’s very athletic for his size [6-foot-5 and 212 pounds] and has very good hands. His skating and mobility are pretty elite. He gets out of the crease to stop pucks very well which is a plus for our defensemen. His lateral movement because of his size and explosiveness and strength is pretty good.”
Gillies admitted he learned early on to capitalize on his size.
“I’m a butterfly goalie which is effective for me because I know how to use my size to my advantage,” he said. “I learned body positioning and no wasted movement at a young age. I learned about staying tight, and most of the time making them try to beat me around my body. Focusing on those points has made me successful.”
Given his tender age, an infinite degree of success very well could be in his future.