June 24th, 2017. National Hockey League Draft Day. As many young hockey players paced the floor nervously or chewed on their fingernails hoping they might hear their names being called by a big league team, Leasiders Jacob Golden and Will Reilly were spending their days somewhat differently.
On that Saturday, Golden’s parents had left to take Jacob’s siblings to activities, and Jacob watched the draft alone. When he saw his name on the TV screen, he says, he was excited. Jacob’s mother, on the other hand, was more than just excited. When she returned home she immediately hung a home-made sign on the front window announcing the big news.
Meanwhile, Will Reilly was watching the same channel at his house. Not really expecting his name to be called, Will watched until he saw his friend Jacob’s name announced, then left to play golf. It was only when his phone “lit up” on the golf course that he discovered he had been selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
These two humble, smart, and driven young hockey defencemen saw the culmination of years of hard work and determination, when they were drafted to the National Hockey League that day. Neighbours Golden and Reilly were selected, respectively, by the Minnesota Wild and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Hundreds of thousands of kids in Canada play hockey, with only a tiny number chosen to play in the big leagues. And how many of those selected are neighbours? This is what Vegas would call the longest of long shots.
The importance of coaching
While both have worked hard to get to the ultimate level, both Golden and Reilly also speak with much respect and appreciation of the coaching they received from their days as Leaside Flames on their journey from mites to NHL drafts. Golden was coached in his Flames’ days by, among others, his dad and Rob Regan, and Reilly, by his dad and Vanja Cecen.
Bobby Orr, the greatest defenceman ever to play in the National Hockey League, once remarked, “Developing better people should be the number one goal for any coach when dealing with kids. In trying to develop better people, we are going to develop more and better pros.”
That certainly seems to be the case with Golden and Reilly, whose coaches speak highly of them. Golden’s Flames’ coach Regan first coached Jacob as a five year old and through the years noticed not only his strengths as a strong stick-handler and skater but also as a coachable kid who “was always listening with both his ears and his eyes.” Regan notes that Golden “has continued to work very hard on his hockey/school balance and has made some strong decisions along the way.”
As a student and player at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) last year, Reilly was coached by Seth Appert, who says that “Will is an elite skating attacking defenceman who has all the components necessary to become an NHL defenceman. His work ethic, high compete level and willingness to accept coaching allowed for great growth in his game this past season.”
As kids, as with many young Canadians, both boys dreamed of playing in the NHL. Reilly, a Leafs fan, admired the play of Mats Sundin, whereas Golden had no team allegiance, but just loved watching the game. And while both have made their dream a reality with the same work ethic and great coaching, the two took different routes on their hockey journey.
Golden and Reilly both played high school hockey (CISAA) with Upper Canada College. Golden then played with the London Knights of the OHL and Reilly with Nanaimo Clippers of the BCHL, and then with RPI of the NCAA.
Strong family support
Both boys credit their families for their support over the years. Golden’s younger siblings, Tate and Josh, both play hockey. Jacob says his sister Tate “is so cute and brightens my day,” while his brother, a AA goalie, was a great playmate from their mini-sticks days to someone on whom he could take practice shots. Golden also gives great credit to his parents Tess and Eric, who, he knows, made many sacrifices and drove him to all those 6 a.m. practices!
Reilly’s 16-year-old brother, Mike, is also a hockey player, and Will credits his whole family, including parents Betty and John, as well as his uncle, Pat Reilly, for all their support (and driving) over the years.
Both players’ fathers comment that, as John Reilly puts it, “to be a pro athlete you have to be smart.” Both Golden and Reilly are studying business and are remarkably well-spoken as well as being driven to succeed.
Their advice for any kids hoping to pursue dreams of playing professional hockey?
“If you love playing hockey, keep playing!” says Reilly. “Have fun and take it day by day,” adds Golden, his friend, neighbour and now fellow NHLer.
Through an enormous amount of hard work, perseverance, and support, both have developed into exemplary young men – young men with an enormously bright future ahead of them.