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One of the toughest and most honorable players I ever saw was Clark Gillies. A leader and key contributor on the New York Islanders’ four consecutive Stanley Cup championship teams of the early 1980s, Gillies was a complete player.
“Jethro” was above-average in every facet of the game. He was a good skater, had offensive skills, was a two-way player and brought a physical element to the game.
He was also tough as rawhide. Gillies never exceeded 100 penalty minutes during his pro career, but that was because no one wanted to mess with him.
Even by today’s standards, Clark would be considered a big and strong forward at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds. By the standards of the 1970s and 80’s, he was like an M4 Sherman battle tank. When he threw a body check, it hurt. When someone went to check him, it was usually the other guy who wound up taking a seat on the ice. When he dropped the gloves, he rarely lost.
Thankfully, as long as he wasn’t provoked, Gillies used played a clean brand of hockey. If I had been more skilled as a player, Gillies is the type of NHL player I’d have wanted to be. Such was my admiration for his abilities and toughness that he was one of the few players I would never have wanted to fight if I could avoid it.
A few years ago, I had a chance meeting with Clark and told him that he was the one player I was legitimately unwilling to fight. Jethro smiled affably.
“You would have destroyed me,” I said.
“Maybe,” he said. “But you would have gotten up ten times and kept coming back at me.”
Trevor Gillies is of no relation to Clark Gillies, either by kinship or by hockey skill. All they have in common is a surname and the fact that both played for the Islanders.
Although it’s politically correct to dump on enforcers nowadays and talk about how they have no place in the game anymore, I think the game is poorer — and cheapshots every bit as rampant — for it.
As such, you will never hear me knock Trevor Gillies for making his living in the game as an enforcer. I played the same role. You will never hear me knock Trevor Gillies because he’s bounced around the minor leagues for many years and “only” played 57 NHL games before returning to the minors. That was similar to my life as a player.
I heard for years that I had “no chance” of playing in the NHL and, even when I got there, that I “didn’t belong there” over more skilled players. Well, guess what: I played in the NHL and even scored two goals. No one can take it away from me. No can take away from Gillies that he played some games in the NHL and also scored a pair of goals.
As such, my objection to Trevor is not based on how he’s tried to make a living in hockey. My objection is based on his frequent disgraceful actions. You can count me among those who have become disgusted with Gillies for the way he’s so frequently crosses the line and not only tossed “the Code” out the window, he’s backed up and run over the remnants a few times for good measure.
The most infamous incident in Gillies’ brief NHL career took place on Feb. 11, 2011. During the third period of a game between the Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins, Gillies viciously elbowed opponent Eric Tangradi in the face, continued to punch Tangradi as he laid prone on the ice and then stood near the tunnel to the locker room, taunting the concussed player.
Gillies was suspended for nine games. In his first game back from suspension, Gillies doled out a dirty hit on Minnesota’s Cal Clutterbuck (not exactly a choir boy in his own right, but that doesn’t make Gillies any less accountable). This time, Gillies got suspended for 10 games.
Gillies has never played in the NHL again. Since that time, he spent a stint in the KHL with Vityaz (when the team was stockpiling fighters from North America) and very briefly played in Finland last season (sucker-punching Jarkko Ruutu) before returning to North America to spend time back in the ECHL and AHL levels.
This season, Gillies is with the AHL’s Adirondack Flames. It took him all of one game to get himself back in trouble with actions that are absolutely indefensible and have ZERO to do with the role he’s supposed to be playing.
First of all, Gillies drew an aggressor penalty for forcing a fight on an unwilling William Carrier of the Rochester Americans. That is bad enough on two levels. A hockey enforcer is NEVER supposed to go after a non-fighter who hasn’t done anything other than try to play the game. Secondly, you should never fight an unwilling opponent. If the opponent fancies himself a tough guy, he’s done for anyway once the rest of the league gets wind of him refusing a fight. If the opponent is a non-fighter like Carrier, don’t go after him in the first place. Carrier never even dropped his gloves or stick. Fighting was the last thing on his mind.
The next thing that Gillies did was one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen: With Carrier down on the ice, Gillies deliberately picked him up and then rammed him head-first back down to the ice. Thankfully, Carrier was unhurt. He could have been severely injured.
Gillies got a 12-game suspension for his latest antics. To me, the guy has forfeited his right to be part of our game. He’s no enforcer. He’s no tough guy. He’s a disgrace.
Basically, Trevor Gillies is the antithesis of everything his namesake represented as a player. Clark Gillies brought honor to the game and pride to the Islanders. Trevor Gillies has only brought disgrace upon himself regardless of the uniform he’s worn.
The saddest part of all is this: Trevor Gillies has given more fodder for the people who want enforcers pushed entirely out of the sport to carry out their agenda. He’s not only hurting himself, he’s also further damaging the livelihood of the honorable tough guys who still try and dream the dream of playing in the NHL.
************ Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.
Today, Stewart is an officiating and league discipline consultant for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the ECAC.
The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials. Stewart also maintains a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget.
Stewart is currently working with a co-author on an autobiography.This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.