Brute strength was once the hallmark of great hockey teams. Then dynamic skating and speed became all important. Now we’ve entered the age of the goalie, where having a stellar net minder is a basic requirement for success. Brown senior Anthony Borelli came out of nowhere his senior year to lead his team, almost by himself, into the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) playoffs with home ice advantage. Across town at Providence College, freshman goalie Jon Gillies put up ludicrous numbers in February, helping Providence stay at the top of the Hockey East conference.
Borelli at Brown is an unlikely hero, as he didn’t play last season. Then this year, after the Brown Bears suffered a 7-0 beating by Providence College eight games into the season, Borelli finally got his chance. And since then he’s been lights out: a 1.77 Goals Against Average (ranked 5th in the country) and an astounding .943 Save Percentage. Brown coach Brendan Whittet says, “A goaltender can change everything. Anthony has allowed us the opportunity to have a run in the playoffs and he’s given our guys the confidence to execute on the offensive side. That’s a powerful thing.”
What is remarkable is that Borelli has done this all in his final year at Brown. In a phone interview he responded to what it was like to start after not playing earlier in college: “It definitely feels good. At first I felt overwhelmed with the pressure, but after a few games it became natural again.” “I’ve always told the guys that you can make a career as a senior,” Whittet says. “Anthony has gone though a lot of different emotions and challenges, and he’s come through with flying colors. He communicates to the young guys what it takes to be successful at this level.” The team had a strong year, and Brown was able to secure home ice advantage in the ECAC playoffs for the first time since 2005. And with their two regular season ties with number one ranked Quinnipiac, anything is possible in the postseason [by the time this issue goes to press the first round of playoffs will be decided].
At Providence College, 19-year-old Jon Gillies has been excellent in net, helping to keep the Friars among the six teams playing musical chairs all year for the number one slot in the Hockey East conference. Stat-wise he boasted a 2.09 Goals Against Average and an amazing .931 Save Percentage (Gillies was selected last year in the third round of the NHL Entry Draft by the Calgary Flames). In an interview Providence College Coach Nate Leaman commented on how rare it is to see this kind of skill from a first year player: “It is not overly unusual to see this level of ability, but to see this level of consistency in a freshman is unusual. He competes for the puck every night.”
Just like Borelli has done for the Brown Bears, Gillies has given the Friars the confidence to challenge the top teams within the conference. Leaman added, “Jon is a highly talented and athletic goaltender, and this is in a year where goaltending has been outstanding in our league. He is among the best, and a candidate for Hockey East Rookie of the Year.” In an interview Gillies responded to the question of being a freshman leader: “I don’t feel any added pressure. It just has been a great situation to be in and I try and give my team a chance to win every night.”
By the time this publication is printed, the playoffs will be in full swing for both the ECAC and Hockey East conferences. Then it’s on to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Men’s Ice Hockey Championship tournament at the end of March, comprising of 16 teams that include the champions of each of the five Division 1 conferences (receiving automatic bids) with the remaining 11 teams decided by computer rankings. It is doubtful that Brown would continue to the NCAA playoffs without an ECAC championship, and there is no guarantee that Providence College would get a bid without a Hockey East championship. Adding some excitement is the fact that the NCAA regionals are being held this year at the Dunkin Donuts Center and hosted by Brown University.
With Providence College surging into the playoffs and Brown holding their own, there are high hopes for the NCAA tournament. And it is clear both teams simply wouldn’t be where they are without Borelli and Gillies. Coach Whittet admitted, “Anthony has single-handedly put together one of the best seasons I’ve ever been involved with, either when I was a player or throughout my 15 years coaching.” Time will tell if these goalies can lead their teams to the promised land of conference championships – and when dreaming big – to NCAA Frozen Four national glory.