Netminder Jon Gillies reveals life as an emergency Flames contact

Author: Wes Gilbertson,
Date: Mar 16, 2017

This was no time for small talk.

For any talk, really.

Summoned by the Calgary Flames on an emergency call-up, goalie Jon Gillies arrived at the Saddledome less than two hours before Wednesday’s opening faceoff.

By then, it’s all business.

“I pretty much just tried to stay out of guys’ way,” Gillies said after Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins. “Maybe shook hands, if I got a second with guys. But other than that, just tried to let them go about their business and not get in their way. Just speak when spoken to.”

The last thing that an NHL team wants at any point — and especially during the final weeks of the playoff push — is the flu bug bouncing around their locker-room, which is why under-the-weather netminder Brian Elliott was told to stay away Wednesday.

Chad Johnson would be between the pipes against the Bruins.

The 23-year-old Gillies would be recalled from the American Hockey League’s Stockton Heat to dress as Plan B.

Gillies might one day spin a Planes, Trains & Automobiles-sorta story for his grandkids, but the truth is that Wednesday’s last-minute business trip — his first NHL call-up, by the way — was relatively stress-free.

He wasn’t scrambling to stuff a suitcase, wasn’t pleading with a cabbie to ignore the posted speed-limits and red-lights in a mad dash to the airport. He wasn’t handed a fistful of boarding passes, a geographically twisted series of stopovers en route to his final destination.

Gillies and his Heat teammates had overnighted in San Diego, where the farmhands were prepping for Wednesday’s meeting with the Gulls, top affiliate for the Anaheim Ducks.

He guesstimates it was 7:30 a.m., maybe eight, when he learned that he was needed in Calgary.

His flight was at noon. Direct.

With spring-like weather — finally — in Calgary, there were no delays. The bird was on the runway at 4:15 p.m.

“It actually was a fairly easy day for how hectic it could have been,” Gillies said after serving as Calgary’s backup against the B’s.

No drama, eh?

“I had to wait a little bit at baggage claim, but other than that, everything went smoothly,” he said. “My bags just happened to come out last.”

He was, understandably, last of the Flames to arrive at the rink for Wednesday’s contest.

In fact, after the Bruins ended Calgary’s record-setting 10-game winning streak, bench boss Glen Gulutzan admitted he hadn’t even had an opportunity to say hello to the towering twine-minder.

A cool customer, Gillies never fretted on his flight that Gulutzan’s first words to him might be: ‘You’re in.’

“If you overthink things, you’re going to make yourself nervous,” Gillies said. “I really just tried to approach it like any other game day and just go from there. I mean, obviously there was excitement, but you never want to see a goalie sick like Ells, where you’re so sick that you can’t come to the rink.

“I’m just happy to be here and happy to be a part of the run that these guys have been on. It’s tough to see it end. But when you watch the character level and the compete level around here, it’s no surprise what they’ve been doing.”

Perhaps, that’s preparedness talking. You know, why panic when you feel like you’re ready for NHL duties?

Gillies backstopped the Providence Friars to an NCAA Championship in 2015, being feted as the MVP of the Frozen Four. He’s posted a respectable stat-line — an even-steven 14-14-1 record, a 2.97 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage — behind a young squad in Stockton this season.

“If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody is going to do it for you,” Gillies said. “When you get a call like this, even if it’s just an illness or something like that, I think you’re letting your teammates down if you don’t come in with confidence and come in knowing that you can do the job if your number is called.

“I’m just going to try to do my best for however long I’m here, and hopefully Ells gets better soon and gets back.”

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