Gillies Off And Running In Second SeasonApr 5, 2017
Over the final month of the 2016 season, fans got a glimpse of the potential possessed by first-round pick Brad Gillies. The RIT product displayed his infinity for picking off passes and his adeptness for playing tough, hard-nosed defense required by the Rochester Knighthawks.
After finishing strong in 2016, he committed himself to the weight room to achieve his goal of becoming an impact player for the Knighthawks. The results of his his offseason program at Power Train Fitness in East Rochester were noticeable in training camp.
“I worked extremely hard to get myself as strong and fast as I ever have,” said Gillies, who works out three to four times a week.
“Physically, he was a bit faster and he was definitely stronger than he was last year,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “He worked out really hard; we noticed that about him last year. The biggest part is he has a comfort level in what we’re doing and the confidence that he is able to do it.”
During his rookie campaign, the defenseman/transition man logged time in six games and posted four points and 24 loose balls. Fast forward to the final month of the 2017 season and Gillies has established himself as one of the top transition players in the National Lacrosse League.
“Brad has been awesome,” said fellow defenseman Paul Dawson. “He is our biggest threat in transition and he has been stalwart on our defense as well. Considering he only played six games last year, he has exceeded all expectations.”
“Brad has improved by leaps and bounds,” added defenseman Scott Campbell. “With all the changes in personnel this year, we needed Brad to step in and play like a savvy vet in only his second year and he hasn’t disappointed. He is steady as a rock and we rely heavily on his speed and vision in transition, and he has scored some huge goals for us this year.”
In 2017, Gillies has proven that he has a penchant for scoring big goals, netting momentum-changing tallies in three of Rochester’s five wins. The sure-handed defenseman first showed off his big-play ability on Jan. 28 in an important early-season 9-8 win in Toronto. Gillies picked off a pass, raced down the floor and buried a shot past Rock goalie Nick Rose.
Then on Feb. 25, he netted a career-high two goals with the final tally staking the Knighthawks to a 9-8 lead. This final marker, which came with just 2:33 to play, sparked a late 4-0 run en route to a 12-8 victory over the Vancouver Stealth. Four games later, he notched the second game-winner of his career. This time, Gillies blazed through the defense and beat Anthony Cosmo over his right shoulder to give Rochester an 11-10 lead with 2:05 to play.
“The goal against Buffalo was definitely the biggest of my career,” he said. “It was a big game for us so to be able to score that goal was a big moment.”
Gillies has begun heating up at the right time, with his team locked in a battle for the third and final playoff spot in the East Division. He is currently riding a career-high four-game goal-scoring streak, and has netted goals in five of his last six games. He credits his success to his experience playing forward at an early age.
“Growing up I played a lot of offense,” he said. “So, moving to defense later in my junior career allowed me to develop my transition game.”
Gillies, who grew up in Oakville, Ontario, played his junior lacrosse for the Orangeville Northmen. It was playing under Matt Sawyer, and playing alongside the likes of Adam Jones, Nick Rose and Andrew Suitor, that the teenager adjusted to playing against some the game’s elite players. He also experienced how to win a championship, having twice raised the Junior “A” Minto Cup.
“In Orangeville I got to play with a lot of great players and with teams that had a lot of success,” said Gillies. “I was able to learn a lot from those older players and the coaching staffs.”
Playing his college ball just 15 minutes away at RIT, Gillies was always on the Knighthawks’ radar. With the Tigers, the midfielder earned 2015 Honorable Mention Division III All-American honors. He finished his tenure at the Division III powerhouse with 27 goals, 70 assists and 97 points in 83 games from 2012-15. He was a main cog in RIT head coach Jake Coon’s offense that stressed transition.
Gillies’ ability to play at both ends of the floor was preciously the reason why the Knighthawks swapped first rounders with the Saskatchewan Rush to take him with the ninth overall pick in the 2015 NLL Entry Draft.
“His past experience was getting up the floor quickly and creating offense,” said Hasen. “That was a part of his game that we really liked. He also comes from a good lacrosse background.”
This season, the Knighthawks have loosened the reins on their defensemen which has allowed players like Gillies to flourish. He is currently tied for first in goals (eight) among league defensemen and is tied for sixth in points (13). He has smashed all of his career highs, playing in all of the team’s 14 games.
“I really enjoy pushing the ball,” he said. “I think it’s becoming an important part of the game.”
With four games to play, including a pivotal showdown against New England on April 22, Gillies and the Knighthawks realize that there is no room for error if they are to secure a spot in the 2017 Champion’s Cup Playoffs. After a bye weekend, that quest resumes in Denver on April 15.
“The team’s mindset heading into the last four games is to treat them all as playoff games,” said Gillies. “These are must-win games and our effort is going to reflect that.”