A Tall Order

The Next Wave Of American Goaltenders Are Big, But They Know They Have Big Shoes To Fill

Anthony Stolarz, John Gibson and Jon Gillies represent the next wave of young American goaltenders who may become future NHL stars. (Photos by Getty Images)Anthony Stolarz, John Gibson and Jon Gillies represent the next wave of young American goaltenders who may become future NHL stars. (Photos by Getty Images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Jon Gillies makes his college hockey debut this fall with Providence College he will proudly hit the ice at Schneider arena with No. 32 stitched on the back of his white, gray and black Friar's hockey sweater.

It's not only a number but also a source of inspiration for the South Portland, Maine native. It's the number worn by Gillie's childhood idol Jonathan Quick. One of the top American goaltender's in the National Hockey League and the latest U.S. goaltender to hoist the Stanley Cup.

"It was great seeing him win the Cup," said Gillies, this year's third round draft pick of the Calgary Flames. "I have been following him since he was at UMass and I wear number 32 because of him."

Tomorrow Gillies will join John Gibson, Anthony Stolarz and Garret Sparks at the 2012 USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., as they look to represent the next wave of American goaltenders that aspire to one day follow in the footsteps of their goaltending forefathers.

For more on the Rise of the American Goaltender pick up a copy of the August issue of USA Hockey Magazine for a complete look at some of America's best goaltenders in the NHL and over the course of history. 

Gibson, a 2011 second round pick of the Anaheim Ducks, was on a bus coming back from a hockey game in 2010 amid one of the greatest Olympic goaltending runs in American history. He and his teammates sat there in awe as Ryan Miller continued to win over the United States faithful during his silver medal performance at the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games.

"Ryan Miller had a great tournament," Gibson said. "It wasn't the score they wanted [the 3-2 overtime loss to Canada in the gold-medal game] but it still did a lot for the country. It was hard to see how sad they were but it speaks volumes to what they did, how impressive they were, and what they did for hockey in the United States.

"With the year he had there it was pretty unbelievable and I think a lot of American goaltenders especially targeted him as their favorite goaltender with that experience."

John Gibson #31 of Team USA skates against Team Finland at the Lake Placid Olympic Center on August 8, 2011 in Lake Placid, New York. Team USA defeated Team Finland 5-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)John Gibson #31 of Team USA skates against Team Finland at the Lake Placid Olympic Center on August 8, 2011 in Lake Placid, New York. Team USA defeated Team Finland 5-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)One inch taller than Miller, the 6-foot-3 Gibson also enjoyed international success in 2010 when he won a gold medal at the World Under-17 Challenge, stopping 38 of 39 shots. A year later the Pittsburgh native led the United States to a gold medal at the 2011 Under-18 World Championships in Germany with back-to-back overtime wins in the semifinals against Canada and the final over Sweden.

"It was a great experience and it really showed how close of a team we were and how we didn't crumble under pressure even when we got down," Gibson said. "It showed our ability to comeback and how mentally strong we are."

This past season Gibson had 21 wins and one shutout for Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League while posting a 2.75 goals-against average and a league-high .928 save percentage.

Gillies, whose father Bruce was a goalie in the Edmonton Oilers organization, spent this past season stonewalling opposing skaters in the United States Hockey League for the Indiana Ice. The aggressive butterfly goalie led the USHL in wins (31) and had a 2.77 GAA and .915 save percentage.

Beyond the success of American goaltenders on the ice, what also has inspired Gillies is the path that many of his idols have taken. Quick (UMass), Vancouver's Schneider (Boston College) and Boston's Tim Thomas (Vermont) all played collegiate hockey before standing in between the pipes at the NHL level.

When faced with the choice of the playing for the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior League or taking the college route Gillies remembered the path those before him took.

"They gave me the confidence in the college route and it really affirmed my commitment," Gillies said. "Going back and looking at Quick and Corey and guys like Brian Elliot it made me that much more comfortable with my decision and I really haven't looked back since."

During Miller's Olympic performance the goaltender for the Buffalo Sabres showed flashes of brilliance with a series of athletic and clutch saves. That athletic style has been embraced by the younger generation of goaltenders and has become one of their greatest strengths.

"Athleticism is such a big part and if you can keep it, harness it and use it towards your strength without losing control it's a great weapon," said Gillies, who played a variety of sports growing up.

What may separate this future wave of American goaltenders compared to those currently in the NHL such as Miller and Quick is their size. Gillies and Stolarz, a 2012 second round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, are both 6-foot-5 and with Gibson being 6-foot-3 these three would be the tallest American goaltenders to find success since Tom Barrasso (6-foot-3) or current Vancouver Canucks goalie Cory Schneider (6-foot-3). Ottawa Senator's goalie Ben Bishop (6-foot-7) is another prospect to watch and is currently the tallest American in between the pipes at the NHL level after seeing limited action this season.

Jon Gillies, 75th overall pick by the Calgary Flames, poses for a portrait during the 2012 NHL Entry Draft at Consol Energy Center on June 23 in Pittsburgh. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)Jon Gillies, 75th overall pick by the Calgary Flames, poses for a portrait during the 2012 NHL Entry Draft at Consol Energy Center on June 23 in Pittsburgh. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)Gillies will take his size and athleticism to camp next week focused on earning a roster spot for the 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.

"Hopefully I have a chance to make it over to Russia," Gillies said. "It's just a learning experience like everything. I'm going to try and soak it all in and learn from the older guys like John Gibson and take it one day and one shot at a time."

Gibson, who attended the 2011 evaluation camp as well, is excited about the possible opportunity to represent his country once again.

"Whenever you can play for your country it's an honor and I am looking forward to getting the chance to do it again," he said.

Regardless of what jersey they will wear in the years to come, one thing is for sure. The future of USA Hockey goaltending is tall and bright.

"It's just on the rise 100 percent," said Gillies. "The development of the United States is getting better and better." 

 

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