By Kirk Luedeke
The Indiana Ice are one of the United States Hockey League’s more lethal clubs, and also boast a pair of New England standouts in Robbie Baillargeon and Jon Gillies.
|Robbie Baillargeon was a standout forward at Cushing Academy last season. (Whiteshark Photography)|
Baillargeon, a forward from Enfield, Conn., who starred at Cushing Academy last season, took his game to the more rugged Jr. A league in his draft season as a late-1993 birthdate. So far, Baillargeon has managed to make his presence felt on the scoresheet, currently sitting fourth on the Ice with 11 goals and 28 points.
“It’s a little bit different,” Baillargeon told New England Hockey Journal about the experience of playing hockey in the Hoosier State. “People here are different from New England, and there are a lot of things to experience here, but I was very excited to do it.”
Although a son of the Nutmeg State whose family also keeps a house in Brewster, Mass., during the summer months, Baillargeon also spent several of his younger years in Ohio, where he played minor hockey with a pair of 2011 NHL picks in Connor Murphy (the Beverly, Mass.-born son of former Bruins defenseman Gord Murphy) and Indiana linemate Sean Kuraly.
Unlike Gillies, who is in his second year in the USHL, being away from home and the extended schedule and travel grind has taken some getting used to for the talented rookie forward.
“One thing I can do is score,” Baillargeon said, coming off a 30-goal, 60-plus-point season for the Ashburnham, Mass., prep school. “I think I can move the puck pretty well and be a person on the power play who can help my team get some goals if they’re struggling on offense.”
At about 6 feet and 175 pounds, Baillargeon understands that he needs to get significantly stronger as he continues his development. The Boston University recruit credited Indiana director of player development Ron Gay with doing a lot of off-ice conditioning work to help get him where he needs to be physically.
Even if Baillargeon’s size is not ideal, he brings some intriguing big-league potential to the table.
“When you watch him, you can see the hockey sense and offensive skills,” said one NHL scout based in the Midwest. “I think the biggest challenge for him is coming. He’s just now hitting that stretch of the season where he’s playing more games than he ever did in prep, and if he wears down, that could affect his production and draft stock.”
|South Portland, Maine's Jon Gillies has made big strides in net during his second season with the Indiana Ice. (Whiteshark Photography)|
At the same time, the scout believes that Baillargeon’s quick adjustment to the tempo and rigors of the league from what he was used to was worth noting. The NHL’s Central Scouting Service saw the potential as well, grading him 43rd among North American skaters in the annual midterm rankings.
“It feels great, it’s such an honor,” Baillargeon said of where he is at the halfway point. “But (the ranking) is just a number. I still have a ton of work to do, and I think it’s shown me I’m doing some good things, but that I just have to keep playing well and competing hard.”
While certainly not counted on to score goals for Indiana, Gillies has more than held up his end in stopping them. The South Portland, Maine, native, who almost blots out the sun with his large 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame, is enjoying success at the right time. The accomplished netminder, who turned 18 Jan. 22, already eclipsed his win totals with the Ice from a year ago, posting 18 in 28 games, up three from his 15 in 25 games last season.
“I saw last season as a development year,” Gillies said. “This year it was time for me to step up and focus on being a guy the team can count on for wins.”
As a member of Team USA’s Under-18 entry at the Ivan Hlinka tournament in Slovakia last summer, Gillies had the chance to test his mettle against some of the top international competitors in his age group. Although the Americans finished out of medal contention after winning silver a year ago, it was a singular honor for the netminder to represent his country.
“Anytime you wear the red, white and blue it’s such an honor — I can’t put it into words,” he said. “After the tournament, I wasn’t really satisfied with my play. I wish I could have done more and given my team better opportunities. I think it served as a pretty good source of motivation for me to elevate my game this season.”
Elevate that game he has.
With an 18-5-4 record, 2.29 goals-against average and .927 save percentage, Gillies is doing precisely what scouts expected of him. He parlayed the strong first half into a fourth overall ranking among North American goalies in the Central Scouting midterm rankings.
“Gillies is the prototypical netminder teams are looking for these days,” the NHL scout said. “He’s very big, has a lot of quickness and plays with a swagger that you want in a player. He’s poised and confident, and in my mind brings the right mix of physical tools and mental toughness to the position.”
Gillies grew up in Bruins country, yet he idolized Patrick Roy and now cites current Montreal puckstopper Carey Price as the player he most admires and tries to pattern his game after. At Northeastern University, he will have a chance to face some of the top NCAA competition in the Hockey East, including his close friend and Ice teammate Baillargeon.
“We’re good friends,” Gillies said, noting that the two share the same family adviser in Matt Keator (Wellesley, Mass.). “We’ve enjoyed getting the chance to play together and represent New England out here in Indiana this season.”
The pair are gunning for a Clark Cup championship before they don opposing colors and become NCAA rivals.
NEHJ TOP FIVE
2012 NHL draft prospects
1. Brian Hart
Size: 6-foot-2, 215 pounds
Hometown: Cumberland, Maine
Current team: Phillips Exeter
The skinny: Two-sport star (soccer) oozes athleticism and big-league potential. With his power forward tools and production to boot, Hart is pushing for first-round consideration.
2. Sam Kurker
Size: 6-2, 205
Hometown: Reading, Mass.
Current team: St. John’s Prep
The skinny: The highest-ranked New Englander on Central Scouting’s midsterm report (41st) is an imposing player with the size, skating and shot to be a top-60 selection in June.
3. Jon Gillies
Size: 6-4, 205
Hometown: South Portland, Maine
Current team: Indiana (USHL)
4. Robbie Baillargeon
Size: 6-0, 175
Hometown: Enfield, Conn.
Current team: Indiana (USHL)
5. Brendan Collier
Current team: Malden Catholic
Size: 5-10, 170
Hometown: Charlestown, Mass.
The skinny: BU recruit may be on the small side, but he is skilled, driven and a winner; his overtime goal clinched the 2011 Super 8 title.
Chris Calnan (Norwell, Mass.), F, Nobles
Cameron Darcy (South Boston, Mass.), F, U.S. NTDP
Devin Tringale (Medford, Mass.), F, Lawrence Academy
Brian Morgan (Windham, N.H.), F, N.H. Jr. Monarchs
This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.
Kirk Luedeke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org