This week, the city is donning Friar black, white and silver after Gillies helped guide Providence, the fourth seed in the East Region, to its first NCAA Frozen Four in 30 years. The Friars will play the University of Nebraska-Omaha, a team making its first ever Frozen Four appearance, on Thursday.

“Growing up in South Portland, it’s a big part of my life, but hockey-wise it wasn’t too much of it,” Gillies said. 

Born in Concord, N.H., Gillies moved with his parents to South Portland when he was four. His parents have lived there ever since. Gillies’ time playing hockey in Maine was short, but he did suit up for the Maine Renegades as a mite. He attended North Yarmouth Academy through middle school and his freshman year of high school before saying goodbye to Vacationland.

But South Portland remained his “hometown” in his official hockey biography, and Gillies is just fine with that.

A family tradition 

While Gillies is the first in his family to call South Portland “home” as a player, he certainly isn’t the first in his family to call the crease “home” on the ice. Gillies’ family tree has goaltenders on several branches. 

It started with his grandfather, Bruce Sr., who tended the net at Division III Norwich in Northfield, Vt. From there, the goaltending gene spread to Jon’s father, Bruce Jr., who had a stellar career at the University of New Hampshire, where he is a member of the school’s Hall of Fame. Bruce Jr. played professionally in the International Hockey League, guiding the Muskegon Lumberjacks to the Turner Cup championship in 1985-86. 

Bruce Jr. originally attended UNH on a football scholarship, but a knee injury shifted his full attention to the ice. 

Jon’s uncle, Chris, played between the pipes at the University of Denver. 

“It’s a bond that definitely my dad and I share,” Jon Gillies said, “and with my uncle that played at Denver and my grandfather that played at Norwich and my cousin played at Northeastern, it’s pretty fun to be able to share different things with those guys and it’s definitely a legacy I’m honored to be carrying on.” 

Jon said there were no hard feelings with his uncle after eliminating his alma mater in the regional final last week. Instead, Jon said his uncle called to congratulate him on the trip to the Frozen Four. 

There is one member of the family who opted for a different position. Jon’s younger brother, Cameron, tried the goaltending position, but didn’t take to it. It worked out for him, though — He won a national championship as a forward with the Junior Pirates in March. 

“He’s kind of smarter than all of us,” Jon Gillies said. “He didn’t really fall into the trap and it’s worked out for him and he’s doing great.” 

Life on the road 

Despite attending NYA, Gillies played most of his hockey in Massachusetts. During the summers, he would play for the New England Nordiques based out of Tewksbury. The rest of the year he laced up for the Neponset Valley River Rats, a Tier I select league in Mansfield. 

Gillies’ time in South Portland came to an end following his freshman year at NYA. He transferred to Salisbury School in Connecticut in 2009 and repeated his freshman year academically. 

In his first season, Gillies played in eight games, sporting a .924 save percentage. He was only getting better, and his 6-foot, 5-inch, 215-pound frame caught the attention of USA Hockey. The U.S. Hockey national team invited Gillies to its development program’s four-day camp, which sparked interest from the United States Hockey League, a Tier I junior hockey league based in the Midwest.

Not long after completing the development camp, Gillies was drafted in the fifth round of the USHL futures draft by the Indiana Ice. He was invited to training camp not expecting to make the team when the Ice offered him a spot on the roster for the upcoming season. He accepted and moved about 1,000 miles from his home. Only 16, Gillies became the youngest goaltender in the league at the time. 

Gillies spent two years with the Ice, serving as the primary backup his first year before taking the starting job his final season. As a second stringer, Jon appeared in 25 games, going 15-6-2 with a 2.82 goals against average and a .906 save percentage. He signed a national letter of intent to Northeastern that season. 

“It taught me that I was capable of playing at that level first and foremost,” Gillies said. “You go out there, I was only 16, I had gone to prep school, but really leaving my house for the first time. I learned a lot about the strength that I have inside me. It was stuff like that that really helped and I saw myself progress. I developed out there and looking back on it those were two of the best years of my life. Definitely the two most crucial years of my career so far.” 

His final year with the Ice saw him start 53 games. He finished 31-20 with a 2.77 GAA and a .931 save percentage as Indiana finished the regular season second in the Eastern Conference. 

Gillies’ collegiate plans changed that year when he opted to de-commit from Northeastern. He had been told by Northeastern coach Jim Madigan that the school would allow him to rescind his NLI if Huskies’ starting goaltender Chris Rawlings returned for his senior season. Rawlings chose to return and Madigan kept his promise.

“They held true on their word, which the release of the NLI doesn’t happen very much in college hockey,” Gillies said. “I’m forever indebted and grateful to that staff.” 

Gillies was granted his release from NLI in March, and he wanted to decide on another college before the NHL Combine two months later. The decision was Providence. 

“After my high school graduation, I sat in a room with my family advisor on the phone and my parents and little brother and we decided I wanted to come back close to home and decided Providence was going to be it,” Gillies said. 

In June 2012, Gillies was drafted by the Calgary Flames with the 75th pick in the NHL Entry Draft. 

Back to the East Coast

Just like every other stop in his hockey career, Gillies’ success at Providence began from the start. He started 35 games as a freshman and went 17-12-6 with five shutouts, a 2.08 GAA and a .931 save percentage.

The following year he started 34 games with a 19-9-5 record. He posted four shutouts with a 2.16 GAA and a .931 save percentage. That year, the Friars won their first NCAA tournament game since 199, a 4-0 win over Quinnipiac in which Gillies made 37 saves. 

This season, as a junior, he’s played 37 games between the pipes, going 22-13-2 with a 2.01 GAA and a .929 save percentage. He’s worked a total of 2,181:45 minutes this season, which ranks eighth in Division I. His save percentage ranks 11th, while his GAA is 13th. 

Providence coach Nate Leaman said Gillies’ success is a big part of why the Friars are playing in the Frozen Four. 

“You don’t win this time of year or had the success that our program’s had over the past three years without a very good goaltender,” Leaman said. “Jon’s our guy, he’s our rock. He’s been the guy that’s kind of held the fort down for three years and he’s had a lot of success. When he’s on his game, he’s one of the elite goalies in the nation.”

He’s made an appearance in 106 games, and his family has seen them all. 

“Being able to be close to home, being able to have my family here, I don’t think they’ve missed a game in my time here,” Gillies said. “That first and foremost is something I cherish forever because they’re the reason I’m here. Being able to share this journey with them is really a pleasure.”

Gillies is Providence’s all-time leader in shutouts (13) and career GAA (2.06). He ranks second in program history in wins (58) and saves (2,926). 

His play on the ice has led to several postseason awards. In his freshman campaign, Gillies was named Hockey East rookie of the year and the national rookie of the year, as well as earned a spot on the All-Hockey East rookie team, the All Hockey-East first team and was an American Hockey Coaches Association East second team All-American. 

This year, Gillies again earned a spot on the All-Hockey East first team, becoming just the fifth goaltender in the conference’s history to earn multiple first-team honors. He’s the second Friar to accomplish the feat (Mike Boback). Gillies was also named the Hockey East Goaltending Champion, awarded to the goalie who finishes the conference regular season with the lowest GAA. Not since Chris Terreri in the award’s inaugural year in 1984-85 had a Friar been named the Goaltending Champion. 

Even draped in awards, Gillies remains humble. 

“It’s a team thing 100 percent,” Gillies said. “The awards, they have my name on them, but they have everything to do with the team and how we play and how hard the guys work in front of me. It’s been unbelievable honor to play behind the teammates I’ve had in my three years here. They’ve really made me look better than I should on most nights. I’m indebted to them as well.” 

The one award that Gillies takes the most pride in during his collegiate career is the gold medal he won as part of Team USA in the 2013 World Junior Championship.

“You can’t really describe the feeling that goes through your body and your mind when you get to put on the USA logo,” Gillies said. “It’s really something I’ll cherish forever and it doesn’t come around every day, especially the first year being able to win the gold medal and the excitement level of people that reached out to us. It was unbelievable and those are memories I’ll never forget and never forget the feelings we had and the ups and downs we went through and never forget sitting in a room with all my teammates after the gold medal win. That was one of my most special moments of my career.” 

Another could be in the offing this weekend.

In what could be his last weekend playing college hockey, Gillies finds himself 120 minutes away from the program’s first national championship. Gillies said he hasn’t thought about his future, but if this proves to be the end for him in a Friars’ uniform, the journey’s been worth every second.

“It’s really something special, not only on the ice but off the ice with the people I’ve gotten to share it with as well,” Gillies said. “My teammates have been unbelievable and I couldn’t have asked for better people to spend my time with. The school’s community, their support is unbelievable and it’s unwavering and that’s huge. It takes some of the pressure off when you know they’re going to support you either way and it’s really been great.”


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