Goaltending is the last line of defense and the most important position. The Chilliwack Chiefs have produced some pretty awesome goaltenders over the years. From Mike Minard, Wade Dubielewicz, Ryan Cyr, and Curtis Darling to Marc Narduzzi, Derek Janzen, Jason Montgomery, and Wyatt Galley.
There was one goalie that came to be a marquee member of Chiefs alumni. That goalie is Mitch Gillam.
From his Don Cherry pregame attire to his Carey Price cool demeanor, Gillam is one of the best goalies the Chiefs ever had.
I caught up with Gillam to talk about his time in Chilliwack, his transition to college, and then to the pros.
Eric Clarke: How did you get recruited by the Chiefs?
Mitch Gillam: Before I was in the ‘Wack, I went to Berkshire prep school located in Sheffield, Massachusetts. I played there with Trevor Hills, who also played with the Chiefs. (Trevor’s) father Brian is the assistant coach for the RIT Tigers of the NCAA and knows Harvey Smyl. He was able to get us in contact with (Harvey) and had us come out to play for the two years we were able to call Chilliwack our home.
EC: What experiences from your time in Chilliwack have influenced your everyday life?
MG: There are a million experiences that have influenced my everyday life but being part of the Chilliwack Chiefs as a whole is the main influence. I don’t want to pinpoint just one or two things, I want to pinpoint THE thing about being a Chief.
I think about Chilliwack a lot, almost every day but more so since I’ve turned pro. The (pro) way of life is very similar to that (with the) travel and everyday life. It taught me at an early age how to take care of myself and grow up on my own. In saying that, I did have a great support group while I was there.
Everyone in the organization I still stay in touch with every week. It’s a tight-knit “Chiefs family”, from the front office, coaching staff, fans, billets, and teammates the moment you get there. (It’s) something that will stay with me on a very personal level for the rest of my life.
EC: You were part of the Chiefs team that returned to Chilliwack after a five-year hiatus in Langley. What was the feeling around the room with that team?
MG: Yeah, that was a very cool situation. Everything was brand new. As a 19-20-year-old in the hockey world, it’s like Christmas!
I can remember all the new smells of the gear, carpets, training equipment, and paint. The buzz around the guys in the rink was electric and so was the buzz around town. We were the next best thing to happen to the city and everyone was ready for us to be back in the ‘Wack.
EC: How was the feeling after beating that powerhouse Penticton Vees team in the home opener?
MG: That game was one of the craziest games I’ve ever played in. Everyone was on the edge of their seats screaming and cheering us on. I don’t think any team assembled would have beaten us that game.
EC: In 2012-13, you had a banner year and won the Coastal Conference MVP. How was that feeling?
MG: I couldn’t have been MVP without any of my teammates. They were phenomenal in our defensive end and it never would have happened without them.
EC: You were credited with a goal, becoming the second goalie and second Chiefs netminder to be credited with a goal in BCHL history. What went through your mind as the goal was being announced and you heard your name?
MG: The goal was pretty cool, but it was never the way I wanted to score a goal. I couldn’t believe it went in. Surrey has an Olympic size rink, (so it) took a few minutes to get there.
EC: After Chilliwack, you spent four years at Cornell in the Ivy League. How was your transition to college hockey from the BCHL?
MG: It was pretty smooth actually. For me, I had been used to managing school and athletics already when I was at Berkshire so it was very similar to that. The thing I had to get used to my first year was not playing.
I had just come off a great year in the BCHL as one of the top recruited goalies to a place that had a 3-4 year great starting senior goalie in Andy Iles. It was very different for me, going from being a starting goalie for many years to starting fresh.
It was a great learning year for me though. Andy was a great mentor to me during my first year which allowed me to grow into the change in game speed, size, and next level of competition.
EC: You scored another goal at Cornell during a defensive breakdown. What went through your mind as you shot the puck?
MG: We got hemmed in on the half wall trying to clear the puck out of our zone with 15 seconds left I think. The puck popped out to the Niagara defenseman and he shoveled it at me from just inside the blue line.
When I caught it, I looked up and first noticed five guys on their team to my right so the left side of the ice was wide open for me to play it. Playing the puck is one of my strong suits. Joel Lowry was swinging across the top of the circles and I was originally going to pass to him but their D was collapsing on him so I took advantage of that and shot it right by both of them up the middle.
As soon as I saw it go by them, it was headed for the middle of the net. My dad pulled a fast one and left work that day early to come to watch my first game at school. The first thing I did after I saw it was going in I turned my head behind me and looked up at him laughing, he pointed at me and stuck his hands inside the air, so I turned around and did the same. What a feeling that was hearing Lynah Rink erupt.
I remember the boys coming right to me and Johnny McCarron, our captain, yelling at me to go down the bench and celebrate with the team. (It was) a feeling I’ll never forget. I’ve got the puck, gloves, and stick up on the wall in my room.
EC: After college, you signed with the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL. How was your transition to the pros?
MG: Orlando was a great experience. I had a great first game and a tough second game. My style in college where we played a solid defensive game allowed me to challenge the shooter more. Whereas the pro game was a little more open, and guys could read my depth and move it around me easier, so I had to adjust quite a bit. All in all great team, good memories there for my first pro experience… fantastic weather.
EC: Have you thought about playing in Europe?
MG: I have thought about it, but (I’m) still trying to keep the dream alive in North America for now. Maybe in the next few years.
EC: You currently play for the Wichita Thunder of the ECHL. Have you started training camp or heard anything about the start of the season?
MG: Nope, I heard Gary Bettman say the NHL could be moved back to early January so I’m guessing a month or so after that is when the ECHL will be starting.
EC: Other than playing in the ECHL, what have you been up to?
MG: Just working out and staying in shape, nothing too much. My brother owns a gym here In (my hometown) Peterborough, Ontario so I’ve trained some younger goalies and that’s about it.
Gillam played two seasons with Chilliwack, posting a 50-24-1 record with a 2.80 goals-against-average and a .921 save percentage. He also became the second goalie in BCHL history to score a goal, was named to the BCHL all-rookie team and an Interior Division second-team all-star. Gillam was also a Coastal Division MVP and member of the BCHL’s first all-star team during his career.
After Chilliwack, Gillam played four years at Cornell University in the Ivy League of the NCAA. He posted a 2.15 GAA and a .923 save percentage. He was named to the NCAA All-Ivy League team twice and scored a goal in his debut against Niagara.
Gillam is currently playing in the ECHL with the Wichita Thunder where last season he posted a 15-19-4 record with a 3.48 GAA and a .905 save percentage.