Gillies looks to engineer offensive breakthrough

HOUGHTON – Usually, the Michigan Tech hockey team has to overcome several natural obstacles when attracting new recruits.

The size of the school – and corresponding athletic budget – can be trumped by many universities in the Big Ten or National Collegiate Hockey Conference. The location – at least six hours drive away from any major professional sports team and a seeming endless supply of snow – can be a drawback as well.

But Tech offers one benefit most schools can’t match.

A reputable degree in engineering.

So for all the other times the Huskies size and location prove a detriment, the quality of the education often proves a boon.

It certainly helped land explosive winger Alex Gillies out of the British Colombia Hockey League.

“It is a high, high caliber school,” Gillies said. “I would like to be an engineer, and the education was such a big part of my decision.

“Reaching the NHL is a goal of mine, but not everyone makes it. So going to Tech, I know I am going to leave successful either way.”

While Gillies was attracted to what he could find at Tech off the ice, Husky fans will get to know him quickly for what he is capable on the rink.

Standing at a lithe 5-foot-11 and 178 pounds, the British Colombia native was a constant presence on the scoresheet last season for the Salmon Arm SilverBacks in the BCHL, racking up 58 points (28 goals, 30 assists) in 46 games.

He skates as a well-rounded offensive-product, equally capable of making the killer pass and finding the back of the net.

And with four senior forwards departed from the Husky roster, there will be plenty of opportunity for Gillies to make an impact right away.

“Alex is a highly skilled winger who will bring immediate offensive impact to our lineup,” Tech assistant coach Bill Muckalt, the BCHL primary recruiter, said. “He’ll be an outstanding player on our power play and an offensive threat any time he’s on the ice.”

Gillies notched eight power play goals last season – second best for the SilverBacks – and will likely be called upon immediately to help fill that role at Tech.

The Huskies scored on a middling 15 percent of their special teams opportunities last season, with the power play proving to be more of a burden than a boon for good chunks of the year.

“I think I see the ice really well,” Gillies said. “It helps me be successful in those situations, knowing where to go with the puck.”

Gillies enters Tech knowing at least one friendly face – linemate at Salmon Arm and fellow incoming recruit Evan Anderson.

The two combined exceptionally last season for 110 points on the same line and Gillies would love a chance to continue skating alongside his center.

“We played really well together last year for the full season,” Gillies said. “And he is a buddy of mine off the ice. It’s a nice bonus going there with someone you know like that.”

Gillies has spent the summer hitting the weight room, trying to add some muscle to prepare for the rigors of college hockey play.

He believes no matter the jump in level, however, he will come in ready to compete at a high level from day one. Tech will be counting on it.

“I’ve really been working on my skating, just getting stronger on the ice,” Gillies said.

“I’m a pretty skilled guy, so if I improve my physical play I should be ready.”