A pre-game ritual for most hockey players is kicking around a soccer ball outside the locker room just hours before taking the ice. Every now and then, though, Predators defenseman Hal Gill branches out from the soccer crowd. Gill can sometimes be found tossing around a football before the game, which brings back memories from 20 years ago.
“It’s fun. I threw a lot of footballs in high school,” said Gill. “The arm isn’t what it used to be, but it’s fun to throw it around a little bit.”
Growing up in suburban Boston, Gill was a star quarterback for Nashoba Regional High School in Bolton, Mass. In his senior year he had a few college offers from Division 1-AA schools, but ultimately decided to stick with his winter sport: hockey.
“It was a tough decision. I talked to my father about it and he told me to do whatever I wanted to do,” said Gill, who graduated from Nashoba in 1993. “It’s really the only 50/50 decision I’ve had to make in my life. It’s interesting that at that point in my life it was the biggest decision.
“I probably would have gone to Boston College, just because that was the highest level. The Hasselbecks were there at the same time, though, so I probably would have been holding a clipboard. They would have beefed me up and made me a tight end.”
The current 6-foot-7 defenseman was 6-foot-5 when he was 18, meaning he had a great height advantage towering over high school kids. Gill, who also played baseball at Nashoba, likened his playing style to former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
“I had pretty good arm strength. Not the best foot work. I couldn’t move out of the pocket,” said Gill, who also mentioned that he could throw the ball 65-70 yards on a good day. How far could he sling it now? “My arm would probably go further,” he joked.
Gill, a New England Patriots fan, is enjoying being in the middle of the south’s football hotbed here in Nashville. With the lockout under way, Gill plans to stay here with his family until the NHL and NHLPA can come to a labor agreement. Since he’ll be spending less time at the rink for the foreseen future, Gill may check out some of the various local football options – high school, college, NFL – on weekends. He also took it one step further.
“I’m going to see if I can get on the Titans,” he joked. “I love watching football so that’s what I’m focused on right now. It’s everywhere here. It’s hard to get away from it. It’s really cool. Being in Montreal for a while, it’s hockey all the time there. It’s fun being here.”
It’s safe to say Gill made the right call to stick with hockey. He’s been an NHL mainstay on the blue line for the better part of 15 years and won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009. When celebrating with the Cup that summer, Gill went back to Nashoba Regional High School, where he is inducted in the school’s athletic hall of fame.
“It’s a great school. I learned a lot of things at that place – the athletics, being around teams, learning how to be a teammate, how to handle myself,” said Gill. “It meant a lot to me to bring the Cup back and do a fundraiser for them. It’s a place I have a lot of good memories of.”
A lot of those memories consisted of Friday nights in the fall, where he lined up under center for the Nashoba Chieftains.
“I miss football a lot, especially this time of year when it’s everywhere. It’s something that I always will love,” he said. “I guess I made the right decision, though.”