I sat down in the bleachers of Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut, with the Bridgeport Soundtigers left wing enforcer, Trevor Gillies to talk about fighting, leadership and family before his season ended this year. The Soundtigers are the AHL affiliate of the New York Islanders. I'll have to admit, I was intimidated. Being from Pittsburgh I had the vision of him taunting Pittsburgh Penguin Eric Tangradi from the runway while he lay concussed on the ice. (Gillies received a 9 game suspension from this incident.) As soon as the interview began his animated, genuine and easy going attitude immediately made me comfortable.
It's no surprise Gilles has 8 years of boxing experience under his belt, but in the past 5 he has been honing his fighting skills with Mixed Martial Arts coach Chris Elms in Augusta Georgia. Elms has A BJJ Brown Belt, Judo Black Belt and is also the former I.S.C.F. middleweight MMA champion. “Being from the south he didn’t know a lot about hockey fighting,” said Gillies. “But we took things that will work from martial arts and incorporated them into hockey.” Gillies noted that there is more of a science behind it now and that he isn’t just “chuckin em” like he was when he was younger. “If you watch my fights I’m more of a technician. I’m more prepared with blocking and cross grabs amongst other things… but, I don’t want to give it all away here,” he joked.
He may not want to give it all away, but Gillies has shared some tips with his teammates in Bridgeport, like Steve Oleksy, Blair Riley, and Brett Gallant. "There’s a lot of tough dudes in this league but not as many as there once were. We’re kind of a dying breed and hopefully we can keep it around," said Gillies. "Even for the really skilled guys, fighting is never a bad thing to learn. They need to know how to defend themselves. We need them in the line up and we don’t want them getting hurt."
As one of the oldest on the team at 33, Gillies took on a “big brother” role that he’s already familiar with, growing up the eldest in his family. “We have so many leaders on the team just not the captain and the assistants. Even though I'm not in the line up every night, the guys know that Im there for them. The main thing is just being a piece of the puzzle, as long as at the end of the year, if you have a puzzle and all the pieces add up, that’s when you win a championship. That’s part of being a good teammate.”
Gillies may be known for his fighting and that badass handlebar mustache, but off the ice he’s a family man. Wanting to give his kids a “home base,” this was the first in over 9 years that his family, wife Danielle, stepson Phoenix, 11, and daughter Danni Ryan, 4 weren’t with him during the season. “I get labeled all different kind of things. But I think you judge a man by what kind of dad he is. I take great pride in trying to be the best dad I can. This year has been rough without them around, but we’ve got Skype and phone calls.” said Gillies.
Gillies heads home to his family this summer as an unrestricted free agent.
While I didn't have the nerve to bring up that crazy game in February vs the Pittsburgh Penguins, I can say I will no longer have nightmares of Trevor Gillies beating down my home team. I have learned there is more to the man than just his brutish persona on the ice.