By Kevin Callahan
Growing up in South Jersey, Jaime Hill played against Johnny Gaudreau of Carneys Point, who made his third All-Star game appearance last winter in three seasons with the Calgary Flames.
Gaudreau, who played at Gloucester Catholic High School before leading the nation in scoring at Boston College and winning the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s best player, is only 5-foot-9 like Hill.
And although Hill certainly admired Gaudreau as kids playing youth hockey, the athlete he idolized didn’t wear ice skates and a sweater for a jersey.
No, that player wore a tank top with the No. 3 and played for the 76ers.
Hill was inspired by Allen Iverson growing up because “he is small like me.”
Now, Hill has something else in common with the 11-time NBA All-Star whose No. 3 now hangs from the rafters at the Wells Fargo Center besides being short for their sport: Hill is also a professional athlete.
Hill, who grew up in Glassboro, recently signed a pro contract to play ice hockey for the Pionniers de Chamonix-Morzine in France.
He will still follow the 76ers this winter and surely, he will make friends in France with NBA fans, especially the ones who follow the Sixers. And, there should be a sizeable contingent of Sixers fans in France since their countryman Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot was a rookie swingman with the 76ers this past season.
Last season, Hill played his senior season for the University of New Hampshire ice hockey team. In high school, he played three years at Bishop Eustace Prep School and then three years in the United States Hockey League with the Waterloo Black Hawks before attending New Hampshire.
Hill, 25, played in high school for head coach Mike Green and assistant Keith Primeau, the former Flyers center, so he was exposed to a pro athlete early in his development.
But, Hill was around future pro athletes before Primeau, whose son, Cayden, was just drafted by the Canadians in June with the No. 199 pick that the Habs acquired from the Flyers.
Growing up in South Jersey, Hill knew both “Johnny Hockey “Gaudreau of the Flames and Kyle Criscuolo, who just won in mid-June the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup playing with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the Detroit Red Wings minor league system.
Like Gaudreau and Hill, Criscuolo is just 5-foot-9. And like Hill, Criscuolo was a basketball fan growing up in Shamong. In fact, he played at St. Mary’s of the Lakes grade school in Medford where Steve Vasturia was a teammate. In another connection, Vasturia recently had a free agent workout with the 76ers after starting for four years at Notre Dame.
“I played with Kyle when I was growing up,” Hill said about Criscuolo, who played at St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia and then was a two-year captain at Harvard. “I’ve known Johnny pretty well, we’ve grown up playing since we were three years old and his dad taught me how to play hockey.
“We probably played together from three until we were 14 years old.”
Like with Iverson, Hill says he looks at both of Gaudreau and Criscuolo and says “they are very inspiring.”
After redshirting as a freshman, Hill played four years at New Hampshire, where he played both wing.
Hill, who played in a career-high 36 games last season, doesn’t know what position he will play for the Pionniers de Chamonix-Morzine, where he signed a one-year contract.
He explained “there are four leagues and I’m in the second one.
“They were in the top league last year,” Hill added, “but they were the worst team and drop down.”
Hill, who received his degree in communications, is looking for the 76ers to rise this season.
Like the 76ers when they drafted Iverson and now with back-to-back No. 1 overall picks Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, Hill feels a new beginning.
“I love the opportunity to start fresh somewhere,” he said.
But, Hill will always remember his roots and looking up to Allen Iverson.