By Warren Kozireski–
Niagara Icedogs goaltender and Buffalo-raised Stephen Dhillon was first eligible for the NHL draft in 2016, he played in only 24 games, but with a 2.69 goals against average, a respectable .906 save percentage and was named the team’s Rookie of the Year. He also had the frame many teams are looking for at 6’4” and 186 lb. and was ranked 22nd among North American goaltenders prior to the draft.
But he was passed over.
Returning to the Icedogs for 2016-17, Dhillon moved into the top spot in goal and posted a campaign that had him leading all of Canadian junior hockey in shots faced (2312) and saves (2114). He was the Icedogs selection as “Heart of the Team.”
Passed over again in the 2017 NHL Draft.
In 2017-18, he bettered his numbers with a 3.34 GAA in 52 games and was even better in the postseason with a 2.80 GAA and .924 save percentage in ten games.
For the third time, he was not selected.
Back to Niagara for an overage year in 2018-19 and, as of mid-February, Dhillon Had won 27 games in 45 appearances for the first place Icedogs with a 3.07 GAA and .909 save percentage.
Now he hopes that sparks some interest to sign him to a free agent contract at the end of Niagara’s season.
“We’re in a pretty close race for first place in the division, so only a little bit let and we have to keep going,” the former Buffalo Regal and Amherst Knight said.
“Obviously it’s disappointing not being drafted or signed, but you can’t really dwell on that. You have to keep moving forward and keep improving, hopefully get your shot and make the most of it when you do.”
The 21-year old has attended several NHL team development camps, which has helped more team personnel see him against higher level competition.
“A lot of fun and I’ve been picking up different things from different places and I’ve just tried to input that into your game. Each team will tell you a different thing here or there and you just try them out. Some things work and some don’t work for your game; try new things and hopefully they help.”
In Buffalo, Dhillon played AA for the Bisons, AAA for the Regals, Amherst and Depew Saints before returning to the Regals prior to going the OHL route with Niagara.
In his fifth OHL season, Dhillon earlier this season (Dec. 29) set the new team record for career games played previously held by Mark Visentin (166). As of this writing he stood at 185.
“The dream is still to play in the NHL and I thought the Ontario Hockey League gave me the best opportunity to fulfill that dream.”
Unlike some goaltenders, Dhillon approaches the pre-game
warm-up a little differently—some might say nonchalantly.
“I always leave
things pretty loose and then dial it in for game-time. Some guys are very
dialed in and that doesn’t really work for me. I like to keep things loose and
have fun with it.”