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'Sky's the limit' for new Guelph Storm captain Cam Hillis

Storm coach George Burnett says the "sky's the limit" for the Montreal Canadiens draft pick
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Cam Hillis. Tony Saxon/GuelphToday file photo

You find out a lot about a person's character when things aren't going well.

So it should come as no surprise that new Guelph Storm captain Cam Hillis made a big impression on coach George Burnett last season when he wasn't in the lineup.

"I still think, and will always say, that he had a much bigger impact on our success than people know," Burnett said Sunday on Day 2 of training camp.

"I think what he endured last season through our entire season, you wouldn't wish that on your worst enemy. Three major injuries and how hard he fought to get back .... Seeing him in there and the countless hours he was on his own rehabbing.

"You feel for the kid how he burns to play. It killed him not to be out there on the ice," Burnett said.

If he can stay healthy, being out on the ice will not be a concern this year. He'll likely be the team's number one centre playing in every conceivable situation.

Hillis says that wearing the 'C' on his jersey has been something he's wanted since landing in Guelph.

"It's been a goal of mine since I got to the team," Hillis said, "definitely something I was hoping for.

"I've had two great leaders in the past (Isaac Ratcliffe and before that Garrett McFadden) and I'm ready to lead the team this year.

He got the word on being captain after having dinner with his coach/gm two weeks into the summer.

"I think I lead by example. The work ethic I provide on the ice and in the weight room, and just being a good person. Being an outlet for the guys."

He says he can be vocal when he has to be "on the bench and in the dressing room."

"I'm excited to have a new, fresh start this year," Hillis said.

Hillis was injured three times last season, the final one coming in Game 2 of the OHL semifinal against the London Knights, reinjuring a previously-broken collarbone.

Surgery was needed, five screws used to put the broken bone back together and 16 weeks of no contact orders from the doctor meant the Enniskillen nativefor the rest of the Storm's incredible playoff run.

"It was frustrating, but I think everything happens for a reason," Hillis said. "I  went through a lot of adversity last year and I think that's prepped me for this year and more years to come in my life.

"In a sense I'm greatful to have been through some big adversity already, now I can just play my game and not worry about anything."

He spent the summer on the ice five times a week, training with former NHLer Gary Roberts and his group NHLers and up-and-comers.

Hillis averaged almost a point a game in his rookie campaign two seasons ago after not playing in the OHL his 16-year-old season. He was poised for a big breakout year last year before the injury bug hit.

He ended up playing in 33 regular season games, recording 22 points.

Drafted in the third round by the Montreal Canadiens in 2018, Hillis has yet to sign and is hoping a big year will solve that.

"It's a change of scenery here now, with all the guys graduating. We'll have a younger team, but things don't change too much: guys just have to work hard and do the right things out there." 

Burnett said naming Hillis captain was not a difficult decision.

"It was a natural choice, it was an easy choice," Burnett said, adding that Hillis has to be careful not to try and put the "weight of the team on his shoulders" and rely on help from the rest of the team's leadership group.

"I think he'll do a terrific job. He wants to be the guy. He's great with kids, he's great out in the community, he sets the bar high in the weight room and no one can deny his work  on the ice."

Burnett thinks HIllis could be in consideration for Team Canada at the World Juniors.

"Key thing for me is him being healthy and having a good start. He's the type of kid that if he has a good start he should be a consideration for the world junior people. But he's got to get back to playing and playing consistently, putting numbers up, playing at both ends of the rink in all situations, and the sky's the limit."