Sunday, 23 July 2017

Journeyman To Stuntman

I was enjoying Sunday the best way that I could, and that included stretching the couch out as I watched a movie or two. One of the movies that I watched today was Pacific Rim, and I'm sure you're aware of the plot and cast who headline this movie. But were you aware that the man to the left, Mr. Jere Gillis, was in the movie? Not only that, but it seems the former pro hockey player has become a working stuntman in Hollywood with a number of appearances in major Hollywood movies! While he played an unnamed Spartan general in 300, he's been taking bumps and performing stunts in nearly 90 movies and even landed a role in Goon in 2011! Not bad for a guy who was considered a journeyman, but Jere Gillis played in a number of very interesting places as well!

Gillis came out of the QMJHL's Sherbrooke Castors program as a high-scoring left winger who scored 38 goals and 95 points in 1974-75, increased his totals to 47 goals and 102 points in his third year with the team, and then capped off his junior career 55-goal, 140-point campaign in 1976-77 that saw him lead the team in scoring ahead of some rather notable players such as Rick Vaive and Jimmy Mann. His work in Sherbrooke saw him drafted in the first round twice: the Canucks selected him fourth-overall in the NHL Entry Draft while the Cincinnati Stingers selected Gillis seventh-overall in the WHA Amamteur Draft.

Gillis would choose the NHL route and began his career in Vancouver where he had a fairly decent rookie season, scoring 23 goals and 41 assists. Unfortunately for Gillis, both those numbers would be career highs as he spent parts of three more seasons in Vancouver where he'd total 26 goals and 59 points before Vancouver traded Gillis and Jeff Bandura to the New York Rangers on November 11, 1980 for Mario Marois and Jim Mayer.

After having played just 11 in Vancouver, Gillis found himself as a bit of a utility player for the Rangers who used him sparingly to fill in for injured players and play certain roles that were needed in specific games. As a result, Gillis saw only 35 games of action in the Big Apple, scoring just ten goals and 20 points. He would begin the next season with the Rangers and see time in 26 games, but he only scored three goals and 12 points before the Rangers decided to trade Gillis and Dean Talafous to the Quebec Nordiques for Robbie Ftorek and an eighth-round pick in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft.

But hold the phone, folks. That trade to Quebec almost didn't happen as Dean Talafous retired after being told that he was being traded, having played just 29 games with the Rangers! Talafous announced his retirement on January 1, 1982 - two days after the Rangers and Nordiques announced their trade deal - throwing the whole deal into chaos. As The New York Times wrote on January 4, 1982,
Then, with no explanation from Coach Herb Brooks, or anyone else, Talafous was benched for four games. He decided, on the afternoon of the Rangers-Islanders game last Wednesday, to ask Craig Patrick, the general manager, what was wrong. Patrick told him he had just been traded, with Jere Gillis, to the Nordiques for Robbie Ftorek.

On New Year's Day, Talafous decided that he would retire rather than play for Quebec, a decision that has tangled the trade in confusion and led to a league decision enjoining any of the players involved from playing for any team while the league studies the deal. Quebec claims the retirement nullifies the trade; the Rangers insist the deal was made in good faith and is valid.
With both sides holding a different opinion on how this problem should be resolved, the NHL ruled that the trade could stand with the understanding that the Rangers and Nordiques would have to reach an agreement on a second Rangers player that was to be sent to Quebec by March 9, 1982. As you'd expect, the teams could not come to an agreement on a player, so an NHL arbitrator completed the deal by awarding Pat Hickey to Quebec on March 8, 1982 to finalize the terms of the deal. How crazy is that drama? Wow.

Getting back to the man of the hour, Gillis' arrival in Quebec City wasn't filled with fanfare, and he didn't spent much time in vieux Quebec. After just 12 games where he posted two goals and a helper, Quebec sent him to the AHL's Fredericton Express where he'd play 28 games, scoring two goals and adding 17 assists. Fredericton would miss the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs as the worst team in the eleven-team circuit.

Gillis would not spend another full season in the NHL after that demotion. He would play 37 games in two separate seasons for the Canucks in a second go-around with the team, but Gillis would spend time with Buffalo and Rochester where he'd help the Americans to the best AHL record and capture the 1983 Calder Cup, Vancouver and Fredericton, and Philadlephia and Hershey from 1982 until 1987. None of those locales would remain as a permanent home for Gillis, and he began to look elsewhere for opportunities.

With his career seemingly nearing an end in the NHL, Gillis decided to take his game overseas to Italy where he suited up for Italy-A's Brunico SG. He would join former Washington Capital Rick Bragnalo on Brunico, and Gillis would finish fourth in team scoring in 1987-88 with 20 goals and 36 points to help Brunico to a 15-18-3 record. In comparison, Kent Nilsson was absolutely crushing the Italian league, helping Bolzano HC to a 30-3-3 record while scoring 60 goals and 72 assists in just 36 games - and he finished second in league scoring!

Gillis hung up the skates following his season in Italy, but the lure of the game called him back as he decided to join the British Hockey League's Solihull Barons at the age of 31 in 1988-89. It seemed the time off may have recharged Gillis' batteries because he ripped off 46 goals and 47 assists in just 18 games with the Barons! Incredibly, the Barons still managed to go 9-21-3 to finish eighth out of ten teams in the British Hockey Leagues "Premier" Division - essentially, their ECHL level of hockey. Yikes!

Gillis would stick around for another season in Solihull where he'd add 50 goals and 35 assists in 30 games, helping the Barons to a fourth-place finish with a 16-15-1 record. He would lead the Barons in scoring by 31 points over teammate Jim Lynch, but his 85 points trailed league-leading scorer Gerard Waslen who racked up an impressive 116 goals and 201 points in just 32 games while also leading the league in penalty minutes with 149 PIMs! Who was this Waslen kid?!?

Gillis would move to a new BHL team the following season as he took his game to the Peterborough Pirates! His season wouldn't be long, though, as he only played six games with the Pirates before retiring from the game for a second time. In those six game, though, he tore up the league again by scoring 13 goals and adding four helpers. He still finished as the seventh-highest scorer for Peterborough despite playing one-sixth of the games that everyone else played!

The game still called to him, though, as Gillis remained in Britain to take a coaching job with the BHL's Telford Tigers in the top division. He had a great run in Telford that season, coaching the team to a 21-9-6 record, good for fourth-place in the top division! While hockey played a large role in his life for many years, it was in retirement in Quebec where GillisN discovered and converted to Scientology. Now, HBIC doesn't get into religion for the sake of everyone's sanity, but according to Gillis, "I made it to the NHL but Scientology has made me more successful. It has given me an understanding of life and relationships that cleared up a lot of 'advice' that I had before. And life is great!"

At the age of 39, Gillis decided to give the ol' hockey career one more kick at the can when he joined the Quebec Senior Professional Hockey League's Acton Vale Nova in 1996-97. That experiment lasted all of five games, and while he did record three assists Gillis walked away from the game for good after that stint. When all was totaled on his career, Gillis didn't have Hall of Fame numbers, but he played in a number of cities in countries around the world, got to see the world while he was playing hockey, and he even picked up a few accolades along the way. There's nothing wrong with that kind of career!

It is his second career, though, where's he's seen all sorts of success! Gillis might be one of Hollywood's most in-demand stuntmen as he's been working on major Hollywood films since 2002! Among his many credits are:
  • The Sum of All Fears starring Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman.
  • Shattered Glass where he was Hayden Christensen's stunt double.
  • The Day After Tomorrow starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Emmy Rossum.
  • The Notebook starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams.
  • Death Race starring Jason Statham and Tyrese Gibson.
  • Pacific Rim starring Charlie Hunnam and Idris Elba.
Honestly, his stuntman career might be more rewarding than his hockey career at this point! He's been a part of a number of blockbuster movies, he's even appeared in a handful of roles, and he's still working! For one of five NHL players born in Oregon, Jere Gillis has made an outstanding life for himself after hockey. He's a member of SAG, ACTRA, and UDA, so you know he's a professional.

Honestly, you won't see Jere Gillis' name on many major trophies or in a Hall of Fame for hockey, but his life off the ice is far more interesting after he found himself as a part of Hollywood's lore. With 90 movies to his name, he's worked alongside some of the biggest names in Hollywood while playing against some of the best athletes the sport of hockey has to offer. How many other people on this planet can say that?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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