The young hockey players enrolled in Semiahmoo Secondary’s Hockey Canada Skills Academy got a special treat last week – a surprise visit from NHL forward Colton Gillies.
Last Wednesday, Gillies, a 23-year-old South Surrey native, stopped by the high school to speak with students in the program, and Thursday, Gillies hit the ice with the group at Centennial Arena.
During the one-hour session, Gillies – an alum of the skills academy program – participated in drills alongside the Grade 8-10 students, and spent time chatting with his former academy coaches, such as Jim Babcock.
“It’s great to have him out here,” Babcock said. “He’s an alumni of this program, and it’s always great to see guys like that back.”
The Hockey Canada program is currently run at both Earl Marriott and Semiahmoo secondaries, and gives students the chance to hone their on-ice skills in lieu of the school’s usual P.E. class.
Gillies took part in the program before moving to Saskatoon as a 16-year-old to play in the Western Hockey League.
Under normal circumstances, Gillies, a former first-round draft pick of the Minnesota Wild who now plays for the Columbus Blue Jackets, would have left by now for training camp in Columbus, but the NHL and its players are currently in the midst of a labour dispute, and a official lockout began Friday at midnight.
The lockout comes at an unfortunate time for Gillies, who – whenever the season does begin – will be looking to cement his spot in the Blue Jackets lineup in his first full season with the team. He joined the club midway through last year after being waived by the Wild.
“It’ll be nice to get a chance to play,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Gillies is far from the only NHL player showing up on Lower Mainland ice in recent days.
Members of the Vancouver Canucks – along with L.A. Kings defenceman Willie Mitchell – have been skating all month out at UBC, and last week Winnipeg Jets forward Evander Kane – a Vancouver native – made a surprise appearance in a men’s rec league game at Langley Twin Rinks. Former Surrey Eagles blue-liner Tyler Eckford, who last year played in the Phoenix Coyotes system, also played in the same league last week.