By: Steph Coratti
It’s been a path with some trials and tribulations for Cam Hillis.
For starters, the now rookie Guelph Storm forward didn’t immediately fall in love with the game. Instead, it took some persistent guidance.
“At first, when I was going to the [Kinsmen Learn to Play Hockey program], I didn’t really like it,” Hillis explained of his start at the age of five, adding that his parents George and Sally Hillis got him into the sport. “I was going to go out one more time just to see if I liked it, and as it turns out, I did, so I just stuck with it from there on.”
From there, Hillis began organized hockey at the age of six and played triple-A all the way through, including capping off his minor hockey career as captain, leading the York Simcoe Express to three major tournament championships: the Silver Stick, the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) Gold Medal — both where Hillis earned MVP honours — and the OHL Cup.
Following Hillis’ minor midget season in 2015-16 — a season that both he and his parents recall as the fondest memories of minor hockey — the Oshawa, Ontario native was selected in the second round (28th overall) by the Storm. Already committed to play NCAA, Hillis spent the 2016-17 season with St. Andrew’s College.
A year later, however, Hillis made what he considers to be his proudest decision to date.
“It’s a big deal, de-committing from a school… you never really want to go back on your word, but I think it’s the right spot for me and the right decision,” Hillis explained of choosing to sign with the Storm at the beginning of the 2017-18 campaign. “It was a matter of that I was ready to play against the top competition right now, and I didn’t want to wait any longer so being able to play with the top competition now was the most intriguing for me.”
“It was very stressful for myself and my family,” Hillis continued. “But I’m happy that I stuck with my gut and I’m here now. I’m looking forward to the next few years here.”
The feeling is mutual for George and Sally Hillis, who find pride in how their son handled the decision process.
“We are most proud of his maturity and resolve in choosing his path to the OHL in the face of strong resistance to pursue a different route through the NCAA,” George explained. “He remained unwavering in his commitment — we know this was the right decision for him.”
Now the five-foot-11, 163-pound forward is focusing on his transition into his first season of major junior hockey, all while maintaining a team-first attitude.
“First and foremost, the goal is to make the playoffs and to go as deep as we can,” Hillis said of his rookie season so far, adding that getting more comfortable each day will help him do his part. “The guys have done a great job of making me feel comfortable in the room and on the ice — guys like Nate Schnarr and Garrett McFadden have really been there, asking me if I ever need help, supporting me, and when I don’t have a great game, they’ll be the first ones to tell me it’s a learning process — they’ve been a great help along the way.”
To his parents, that team first mentality stems from the person Hillis is off the ice.
“Cam best described as a very easy-going, balanced demeanour which belies his tenacious competitive spirit,” Sally said, adding that his family and friends are important to him. “He’s dedicated to improving his game through nutrition, training, and practice, practice practice. He’s humble, compassionate, engaging, and never draws attention to himself — he epitomizes the definition of being a team player.”
While for the 17-year-old OHL freshman, it all comes from who’s been there from the start.
“My family — my parents and my sister have been very supportive along the way with whatever decisions I make,” Hillis explained. “I owe everything to them.”