Anyone who watched Mark Hillier playing hockey as a kid could probably tell he had a passion for the game.
Then again, coming from a family where everyone seemed to enjoy lacing on a pair of skates, you might say he was born to love it.
“My dad played hockey, my mom was a figure skater, my older brother played hockey, so did my cousins and all my friends; I fell in love with the game,” he told The Aurora.
Hillier went through the ranks as most Canadians do, starting on skates when he was four or five, playing Timbits, Novice, Atom, Pee Wee, and Bantam in the Labrador West minor hockey system.
In 2015 Hillier moved to Corner Brook to play with the Western Kings.
“It provided me with more competition; there were more chances to travel to games and play against really strong players,” he explained, “That’s how you improve.”
Those years with Corner Brook provided opportunities to travel to tournaments in Atlantic Canada where he continued to build his skills; at one tournament he was named top forward.
One of the highlights of his time with the Kings was scoring the goal that clinched the provincial championship on home ice in February 2017.
From Corner Brook Hillier moved to Aurora, Ontario, to play with St. Andrews.
He was invited to the school, liked the place and the program and accepted a scholarship.
Hillier moved there just over a year ago.
In his first year at the school he was the only 15-year-old to play with the grade 11 and 12 team members.
In that year in 47 games he added 16 goals and 17 assists.
“It was quite a change. You have to meet new people and make new friends, plus get used to a new school and how it works,” he says. “The first couple of months were the most difficult, but I slowly gained confidence in myself and played well, and certainly made good friends.”
Hillier begins grade 11 this year, with lots of academic work mixed in with the hockey.
Hillier says he gets to play the game at a high level at St. Andrews, playing teams at an elite level, and there’s lots of travel, often to Boston and other parts of the United States.
A typical week consists of practice on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, rest on Thursday and games on the weekend.
Hillier stays at the school during the week, and spends weekend (when he can) with his mom who lives in Ontario.
“She is great support and to have her here makes a big difference to me.”
This summer, in June, Hillier climbed another rung of the hockey ladder.
He was drafted by the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League as 64th pick in the 2018 draft.
This year, though, Hillier will return to St. Andrews to play hockey there.
“I have options, and with two years left in high school I took the decision to return to St. Andrews. After last year and the transition from Corner Brook I think this will be a good year for me at St. Andrews.”
Hillier recently visited his hometown of Labrador City.
“Meeting up with my friends and hanging out with them was great,” he says. “I think one of the things I miss most is my friends and family back home. It was great to get together.”
A number of his friends were also with him this summer as members of Canada’s national ball hockey team in the Czech Republic, and the Canadian Nationals in Fredericton earlier this summer where they won gold.
“I have a lot of people to thank for this opportunity, my family, friends, and the many coaches who helped me and mentored me. I’m looking forward to a good season.”