Mark Hillier has a number of college hockey teams looking to have him join the ranks when he’s finished high school, but he’s not letting it go to his head.
Hillier, who won the scoring title and MVP honours for the Western Kings AAA bantam team last winter, is in his rookie season with the Aurora-based St. Andrew’s Saints of the Conference of Independent Schools Athletic Association.
Hillier was born in Labrador City, but moved to Corner Brook where he spent two seasons filling the net in provincial AAA bantam hockey circles with the Kings.
He knew he had to find his way to a better hockey climate to pursue a college hockey scholarship in the United States or Canada so he opted to move away from the comforts of home to join the Saints as the only 15-year-old on a roster filled out with Grade 11 and 12 students.
Scouts have been trying to lure Hillier to their school. He’s sat down with a number of officials from U.S. and Canadian colleges to discuss his future.
He’s not going to allow himself to lose focus just because people think he’s a prospect with a future in hockey if he’s willing to put in the work.
“I don’t get distracted. I try and focus on my game. I don’t want let anybody else take that away from me,” Hillier said from Aurora earlier this week.
“A lot of these schools are great schools and I know if I keep playing my game I will have a bright future in hockey and that really keeps me going,” he added.
Hillier will try to help the Saints win a championship over the next week so he’s all business.
The Saints open the CISAA best-of-three final against Upper Canada College today.
Hillier helped the Saints earn a berth in the final by picking up four points in two games as St. Andrew’s downed Nichols School of Buffalo 8-2 and 8-1 to sweep the semifinal showdown.
Hillier finished the regular season, a campaign that saw the Saints only lose two games, with seven goals and five assists in 12 games.
It was a tough adjustment for a young man to come into an atmosphere where the pace is fast and furious at times with academics and athletics high on the priority list for those who call themselves Saints.
But, Hillier believes he has fit in nicely and seen improvement in his game since joining a team that he believes shares the same mindset as him when it comes to why they are at the school in the first place.
“I love the competitiveness of it all,” he said. “Every player on our team tries their best every practice and game and it helps everybody around them including themselves.”
Being confident in his ability is something he’s struggled with from time to time. He admits he had games where he didn’t compete like he could so he’s just going to forge ahead and do his best every game from now on.
Dave Manning, his coach, has been impressed with how the six-foot forward has settled in at a new school in a hockey setting where he was challenged more than any other time in his life and responded in a positive manner.
“The learning curve was real steep for him and the physical challenge was really steep for him, but he got all the right makeup as an athlete and as a person to take these challenges head on,” Manning said.
Manning said it’s not easy for a young player to fit in right away with a group of older players, but he believes Hillier has made great strides in his development and has gotten better with every game.
“For me, that’s all you can really ask for as a coach is that he’s moving in the right direction,” he said.