It’s the day every bantam-aged hockey player in western North America and for Matthew Gillard, it was one worth waiting for.
The 14-year-old defenceman from Yellowknife is now a member of the Western Hockey League’s Victoria Royals after being selected in the seventh round, 152nd overall of the league’s bantam draft on Wednesday.
Gillard got the news shortly after being picked and he said he was happy it finally happened.
“This was my first year being exposed to scouts and I’m proud to have been picked,” he said. “I had no preference on where I wanted to go.”
There was plenty of contact from several teams in the league over the past few months, he added.
Gillard has been playing his trade with the Northern Alberta Xtreme (NAX) bantam prep squad this season, where he put up 17 points in 23 games to go along with 50 penalty minutes. He also saw action with the program’s Elite 15 squad, suiting up for four games and registering one assist.
He’s represented the NWT in multiple events, most recently at the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, Alta. He was slated to play with the midget boys team at the Arctic Winter Games in Whitehorse in March before that was canned due to COVID-19.
Gillard’s style has always been a physical one and he said that’s how he plays his best hockey.
“I’m a strong, physical player and I think I see the ice well,” he said.
He won’t get to play in the WHL until at least the 2021-2022 season as he’s still too young to play, though Connor Bedard, the first overall pick, will get to play as a 14-year-old due to the league giving him what’s known as “exceptional player” status. That means the league felt he was able to step into the league and develop better there as opposed to playing in the next age group up.
Gillard will return to NAX next season to play with the U16 boys team but he will get to attend Victoria’s training camp this coming August.
That is, of course, if the league resumes operations by then.
“I’m just going to go there and do my best,” he said. “I just want to impress them.”
Of course, Gillard wouldn’t be where he is without the support of a lot of people around him and he recognized that.
“My parents have been a big reason why I am where I am,” he said. “My coaches as well. They’ve always helped me out. Everyone’s been an inspiration.”