August 07, 2015
Most seniors in high school face many tough decisions that will affect the rest of their lives. Should they enroll in post-secondary schooling? If so, studying what? And just as importantly, where would they go?
In many ways Hal Gill had it easier than many of his classmates at Nashoba Regional High School, not so far from Boston. Thanks to his natural athletic ability he had scholarship offers. His problem was what sport would he continue on with.
The giant Gill - he'd fill out to be six-foot-seven and 240 pounds - was the star quarterback on the gridiron and a shutdown defenseman on the ice. He could really swing a bat, too, but baseball was not entering in to his decision process.
Ultimately Gill opted to accept a scholarship to play hockey at Providence College rather than at the New England schools recruiting him for football.
That turned out to be a very good choice.
"I had to choose between football and hockey" said Gill, who grew up in Concord, Massachusetts. "I couldn't give up hockey, so Providence (College) was the school that came after me. I figured that was my best opportunity."
With that news Gill would be drafted by the Boston Bruins in the seventh round with the 207th overall selection a few weeks after his high school graduation. After four seasons at Providence - he graduated with a degree in Mathematics - the rookie was called up by his hometown hockey heroes in mid-October of 1997.
Gill credits his time at Providence with allowing him to mature into a NHL hockey player.
"For sure, the NCAA was the route that made this possible," Gill told NHL.com. "Obviously you dream of playing pro, but my first thing was try to get a scholarship and an education. It was a smaller school that I thought was fitting for me, and close to home, but not too close. It felt like they wanted me and wanted me to be successful."
"When you go to university, I did a lot of growing up, being a man and trying to figure out how to handle myself," he said. "Also, getting in the weight room and some meat on my body; I was pretty lanky and a little uncoordinated, so I spent a lot of time in the gym and grew up as a person."
Size was always Gill's advantage.
"It was the [size factor] that got me drafted," he said. "I always kept being drafted in perspective and did not rush too far ahead. I knew I had a lot of work to do. I didn't play enough competitively in high school to be considered [draft-worthy]. It wasn't skill, just size, and someone took a chance on me and it ended up working out."
Gill enjoyed a 16-year NHL career, including the first eight in Boston. He would also play in Toronto, Pittsburgh, Montreal, Nashville, and Philadelphia. Gill scored 36 goals and 148 assists while playing in an impressive 1,108 games.
“I am so thankful to have played for such great organizations,” Gill said upon retirement. “I was lucky to have made amazing friendships throughout my career and live in so many beautiful cities”
Gill survived for a long time due to his shutdown skills as a defender. He had such a long reach, a longer stick, and was an intimidating physical presence.
He thrived when challenged to shutdown some of the NHL's most talent forwards.
"To tell you the truth, sometimes it's easier," Gill said. "You've got one guy to worry about. You know what he can do. It's more of a physical thing. That's your one job. You don't have to worry about offense.
"You're not worried about what happened, but what's going to happen, and you're out there making things happen, hopefully, and doing your job and moving the puck up to the forwards. It's easier to keep it simple when you're playing a lot of minutes. You don't want to do too much. I think that's what my strong point is -- to just play simple, moving it and letting the forwards do the job."
None other than the great Jaromir Jagr considered Gill to be one of the toughest defensive players he's ever faced.
"He's strong and he has a such a long reach," Jagr said. "The size of the rink is not very big there so for me it's pretty tough to play against him. I'm not the only one. It's not easy to play against him."
"Hal Gill has great mobility for a guy that's 6-foot-7. He also uses the stick very effectively to break up plays. He's tough in front of the net. He's a great guy to have in your end because of his size and how well he uses it," added long time teammate Sean O'Donnell.
Gill also appeared in 111 playoff games as his teams earned 11 postseason invites. He helped the Pittsburgh Penguins reach the Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 and win the championship in 2009.
"I think when I got to Pittsburgh, we had a great run, and the second year was the best of my life," he said, adding that he really enjoyed later playoff runs in Philadelphia and Montreal, too.
Gill also represented the United States at five World championships, winning bronze in 2004.