ORONO, Maine — Jon Gillies is from South Portland, but the Providence College freshman goaltender has never played at the University of Maine’s Alfond Arena.
He will make his debut at Alfond against the Black Bears and their Hockey East goaltender of the month for January, junior Martin Ouellette, Friday night at 7.
Maine entertains UMass Lowell at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
“I’ve heard it’s a pretty fun place to play. Everyone is on top of you. It’s a great atmosphere,” said Gillies, who was a backup for the gold medal-winning U.S. team in the World Junior Championships in Russia recently. “I like playing in front of big crowds.”
Gillies knows he will be facing a challenge when he squares off against Ouellette, who is coming off an impressive road sweep of No. 3 Boston College (4-1, 3-1) in which he made 58 saves.
“I thought he played very well against us,” said Gillies, referring to PC’s 3-2 win on Oct. 26 in which he made 27 saves and Ouellette made 24. “He won the starting job and has done a phenomenal job. He has been very consistent. I’m looking forward to playing against him.”
Gillies shut out Maine the next night 3-0 and finished with 53 saves on the weekend to earn Hockey East Rookie of the Week honors.
That was his first career shutout. Ouellette had his first career shutout against Providence (5-0 on Dec. 4, 2010). Ouellette was a freshman.
Ouellette’s sweep of BC finished off a month in which he was 3-2-2 with a 1.82 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage.
He allowed one goal in five of his seven starts in January.
“It will be a good matchup,” said Ouellette. “He’s a big kid (6-foot-5). We’re going to have to make him move.”
Maine senior defenseman and tri-captain Mike Cornell said Gillies, Ouellette and UMass Lowell junior goaltender Doug Carr, who is likely to play Sunday, are all “proven goalies in this league. Obviously, Marty and Doug are older but Gillies is a highly touted kid who has done pretty well this year, both internationally and here. They have all bailed their teams out a few times. They are the backbone of their teams.”
“Marty’s recent stretch is the best I have ever seen from a goalie,” said Maine sophomore center Stu Higgins, who noted Ouellette has given them a lot of confidence.
“We aren’t afraid to make mistakes,” said Higgins.
“We can take a few more risks than we took earlier in the season,” said Cornell.
Providence coach and former Maine and Old Town High School assistant Nate Leaman said it should prove to be a “real good goaltending matchup.
“Jon is going to have to have his ‘A’ game to match Ouellette,” said Leaman, who added Gillies has been very consistent.
“Jon takes up a lot of net,” said Maine sophomore defenseman Jake Rutt.
Ouellette will enter the game with the best GAA (2.08) among Hockey East goalies who have played at least 33 percent of their team’s minutes. Gillies and New Hampshire’s Casey DeSmith are second at 2.20.
Gillies has the best save percentage among Hockey East goalies (.926) and Ouellette is third (.924).
Leaman said his team is going to have to play exceptional defense “because Maine has held teams to one goal or less seven times in their last 11 games. I’m really impressed with how well they’ve played defensively.”
Gillies said Maine “likes to go behind the net and cut back. They make a lot of plays out front. They’re very good at it. They’re also very good on the rush and at cycling the puck. You have to stay on your toes and make sure you keep the rebounds out of the slot.”
Both goalies praised their teammates, saying they clear the net front and block shots to make their jobs easier.
Ouellette, who followed in older brother Luc’s footsteps in becoming a goalie, said the key to his success has been his preparation. He is hoping to help his teammates claim their first wins of the season at Alfond Arena.
Maine is 0-8-3 at home.
“By beating BC, we proved we can play with anyone. That gave us a lot of confidence,” said the 6-foot-2 Ouellette.