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Three amigos


DEER LAKE, N.L. – Jalen Gillard had just hung up the phone from a media interview when he checked his Twitter feed and saw the news.

Gillard, less than an hour out from being selected in the second round of the Maritime Junior A Hockey League by the Truro Bearcats, was going to have some company.

His best friend and teammate, Jamie Penney, had just been picked up in the fourth round by the same team.

He quickly fired off a text before his phone rang again.

“I was just talking to him,” he said in his thick Newfoundland accent. “Oh my God, I can’t believe it.”

Gillard, a strong and skilled forward for the Western Kings, gushed to the reporter on the other end about Penney, his team’s leader and top defenceman.

“He’s amazing. His dedication to the game and the way he plays is unbelievable. What he is willing to go through for the team is just beyond anything.”

Penney, a five-foot-ten, puck-moving defenceman has spent the last three seasons trying to get the attention of scouts. Finally, after being named the best defenceman in the Newfoundland and Labrador Major Midget Hockey League, he got his recognition.

“It’s a good feeling, knowing I don’t have to worry about impressing scouts anymore,” Penney, 17, said. “I can just move on.”

Gillard, who posted 17 goals and 16 assists last season in 30 games, credited his family for helping him along the way. The oldest of five children, Gillard draws inspiration from his younger siblings, who all play the same sport.

“My sister plays on seven teams. My other sister plays on six. They both play AAA, like me,” he said. “We’re flat out at the rink all the time… We don't stop when it comes to hockey.”

The Bearcats added a third Western Kings player later on, selecting Iain Pilgrim with the fifth pick in the eighth round.

“I was home watching it on Twitter,” Pilgrim said. He’d texted Gillard and Penney when he saw their names, before eventually seeing his own. “It was just really exciting. I was hoping I’d go somewhere and I’m glad it was with them.”

While the three boys are now close, they’d rarely crossed paths until Penney’s second year of midget. Penney, a year older, hails from Corner Brook, while Gillard is from Deer Lake and Pilgrim is from St. Anthony. They came together quickly, however.

“They became best friends, 100 per cent,” said Western head coach Angus Head. “They’re very close-knit, talking to each other every day.”

After being selected, Penney headed to his coach’s house to chat. Head has a close relationship with his players, and it shows when he talks about his top defenceman.

“He’ll have no problem living up to the challenge,” Head said. “I think he can step in right away.”

Head said he wasn’t surprised the players went together, but he thought it would be to Yarmouth, where his former player TJ Smith is currently coaching.

There’s no shortage of connections in this year’s draft. Aside from the three teammates, Penney roomed with last year’s first rounder, Riley Baggs, at a Program of Excellence camp. He also beat out this weekend’s first-round pick, Scottie Greene, for the NLMMHL Defenceman of the Year. Gillard, meanwhile, played summer hockey with Greene.

Now, they'll look to make new connections in Truro. 

“(When) I started playing with Jalen and Pilgrim their first year of midget, we became best bros," Penney said. "That’s what hockey does. Hopefully it will be the same next year.”

Gillard, less than an hour out from being selected in the second round of the Maritime Junior A Hockey League by the Truro Bearcats, was going to have some company.

His best friend and teammate, Jamie Penney, had just been picked up in the fourth round by the same team.

He quickly fired off a text before his phone rang again.

“I was just talking to him,” he said in his thick Newfoundland accent. “Oh my God, I can’t believe it.”

Gillard, a strong and skilled forward for the Western Kings, gushed to the reporter on the other end about Penney, his team’s leader and top defenceman.

“He’s amazing. His dedication to the game and the way he plays is unbelievable. What he is willing to go through for the team is just beyond anything.”

Penney, a five-foot-ten, puck-moving defenceman has spent the last three seasons trying to get the attention of scouts. Finally, after being named the best defenceman in the Newfoundland and Labrador Major Midget Hockey League, he got his recognition.

“It’s a good feeling, knowing I don’t have to worry about impressing scouts anymore,” Penney, 17, said. “I can just move on.”

Gillard, who posted 17 goals and 16 assists last season in 30 games, credited his family for helping him along the way. The oldest of five children, Gillard draws inspiration from his younger siblings, who all play the same sport.

“My sister plays on seven teams. My other sister plays on six. They both play AAA, like me,” he said. “We’re flat out at the rink all the time… We don't stop when it comes to hockey.”

The Bearcats added a third Western Kings player later on, selecting Iain Pilgrim with the fifth pick in the eighth round.

“I was home watching it on Twitter,” Pilgrim said. He’d texted Gillard and Penney when he saw their names, before eventually seeing his own. “It was just really exciting. I was hoping I’d go somewhere and I’m glad it was with them.”

While the three boys are now close, they’d rarely crossed paths until Penney’s second year of midget. Penney, a year older, hails from Corner Brook, while Gillard is from Deer Lake and Pilgrim is from St. Anthony. They came together quickly, however.

“They became best friends, 100 per cent,” said Western head coach Angus Head. “They’re very close-knit, talking to each other every day.”

After being selected, Penney headed to his coach’s house to chat. Head has a close relationship with his players, and it shows when he talks about his top defenceman.

“He’ll have no problem living up to the challenge,” Head said. “I think he can step in right away.”

Head said he wasn’t surprised the players went together, but he thought it would be to Yarmouth, where his former player TJ Smith is currently coaching.

There’s no shortage of connections in this year’s draft. Aside from the three teammates, Penney roomed with last year’s first rounder, Riley Baggs, at a Program of Excellence camp. He also beat out this weekend’s first-round pick, Scottie Greene, for the NLMMHL Defenceman of the Year. Gillard, meanwhile, played summer hockey with Greene.

Now, they'll look to make new connections in Truro. 

“(When) I started playing with Jalen and Pilgrim their first year of midget, we became best bros," Penney said. "That’s what hockey does. Hopefully it will be the same next year.”

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