The respect the Capitals had for Hendricks wasn't mutually shared with O'Brien.
A Brief History of Riley Gill
Riley Gill in action during the first round of the 2013 playoffs (Photo Credit: M. Richter)
For those who are following the Royals on their historic playoff run, you’ve probably noticed the spectacular play by goaltender Riley Gill. So who exactly is this mystery goalie, who stepped out of the shadows just in time to post a .952 save percentage and 1.28 GAA when the Caps prospects assigned to the Royals began dropping like flies?
With the Royals moving onto Game Five of the Kelly Cup Finals, it seemed like a good time to take a look at this twenty-seven year old goaltender’s background. He’s a good name to know, especially if there’s truth to the fact that both the Bears & Caps had representatives taking a look at him during last Sunday’s shutout performance.
Ancient History (of the Juniors Variety)
Going all the way back to 2003-04, Gill made his mainstream debut with the Texakarna Bandits (now the St. Louis Bandits) in the NAHL (North American Hockey League), one of the top junior hockey leagues in the United States. He played in the league for three years, with his final year seeing the best stats – a league leading 35 wins, second best 93.4 save percentage, and a third best 2.15 GAA.
After his stint in the NAHL, Gill went on to play four years of college hockey for the Western Michigan University Broncos. While there, he shared the locker room with a couple of other familiar names, including Matt Clackson and Mark Letestu. (If the university sounds familiar and you can’t place it, it might be because current Caps prospect Garrett Haar is just finishing his sophomore year with their program)
Gill’s freshman and sophomore years were about what one would expect, posting decent save averages (.912 and .902, respectively) and GAAs of 2.79 and 3.26. His play stabilized during his final years, where he played a consistent 30 game schedule. The heavier workload and growing experience saw save percentages of .920 and .923 while bringing his GAA down to 2.8 as he wrapped off his NCAA career in 2010.
Despite his impressive runs with the Bandits and Broncos, Gill went undrafted. As a result, he opted to sign on with the ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings. He played with them for three seasons, with a few side-jaunts to the (now-defunct) Victoria Salmon Kings (ECHL), Worcester Sharks (AHL), and Bridgeport Sound Tigers (AHL).
While with the KWings, he served as a backup for the 2009-12 seasons two, which included the team’s appearance in the 2011 Kelly Cup Finals (they lost 4-1 to the Alaska Aces, but had taken out the Royals in the second round en route).
In the 2011-12 season, he took over the position of starting goaltender for the KWings. He went on to post a 90.3 save percentage with a 2.93 GAA, with a record of 24-15-1. The team just barely squeezed into the playoffs, but managed to make it three rounds before being eliminated by the Florida Everblades. If the KWings sound familiar to Caps fans, it’s because they knocked out the then-Caps Affiliated South Carolina Stingrays in the second round that year.
Going into the 2012-13 season, Gill took a breather from the ECHL and tried his hand at the SPHL (Southern Professional Hockey League). He served as starter for the Louisiana IceGators, and led the SPHL in wins while helping the team to tie for first in the regular season. He might well have seen them to a championship victory, but he was offered a position with the Reading Royals after things started getting dicey with their goaltending situation.
Back to the Future
At the moment, the Royals hold a 3-1 series lead over the Stockton Thunder. All three of those wins came with Gill between the pipes, and he deserves much of the credit for the near-miss on Friday night, as well. He continues to turn in a consistent and solid performance with each new start, providing the Royals with the confidence to push the envelope on the offensive end as the need arises. While it’s unknown quite what the big names thought of him during last Sunday’s shutout, it’s fair to say it was positive. At twenty-seven years old, he’s still young by goalie standards, and he’s certainly making a case for future consideration at the higher levels. Expect to see him in the professional leagues for quite a while to come.
M. Richter contributed to this report.