PG South: U.S. national development hockey team adds Baldwin resident Gibson

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By the time John Gibson was a toddler, his parents already were chasing him around as he played with a broom and ball.

"I was always hitting it around the room," said Gibson, a Baldwin resident. "So they figured I should try hockey."

It's not certain Gibson even knew what hockey was at that point. But from the time he was aware of the sport, he hasn't turned back.

"Ever since the first time I skated, I loved it," he said. "And I stuck with it."

He's stuck with it all the way through to the point he has been chosen as one of the top two players at his position in the nation and will have a chance to represent his country in international events.

Gibson, who played as a goalie for the Pittsburgh Hornets organization this year, was selected to participate in the USA Hockey U-17 National Development Team.

Gibson will move to Ann Arbor, Mich., where the team is based. It will participate in the United States Hockey League, the highest level of junior hockey for those aged 20-and-under in the U.S., and also enter international competition.

"To me, it's the highest honor you can be paid because it represents that you're one of the 22 best players in your age group in the country, first of all," Hornets coach Chris Stern said.

"Secondly, but more importantly, it's an opportunity to wear the flag of our country, and the players there take that aspect of it very seriously. The program takes it very seriously. They hold the players and kids accountable, both on the ice ad off the ice."

Gibson went 24-7-3 with a 1.82 goals-against average and .933 save percentage with three shutouts for the Hornets' Midget Minor team this past season. He becomes the second goalie from the Hornets organization to be selected for the team over the years, joining Dwight Labrosse, a Peters resident who was part of the program a decade ago and ultimately was drafted by the Penguins.

"I'm very excited to go," said Gibson, who will be joined by Hornets teammate J.T. Miller, a forward who is from East Palestine, Ohio. "It'll be a pretty cool experience to go around the world, to Canada, Russia, Slovakia, playing for the United States."

Gibson is 6 feet 3, about 180 pounds, a height that, as Stern put it, is "prototypical NHL size" for a goalie. Although the highest level of hockey is still a very long way off, the national development team has a long established track record for producing and developing top-level NHL talent (Zach Parise, Phil Kessel, etc.). Gibson could perhaps have that kind of potential.

"That's what [the national team officials] are excited about," Stern said. "They specifically mentioned when discussing John that they were excited about his future beyond the program. Not to put too much pressure on the kid, but anyone who makes the national team, by definition, is a candidate to go on to bigger things

"Virtually 90 percent of them earn [NCAA] Division I scholarships, if not have their pick of D-I schools, and quite a few end up at the next level and in the NHL. [The national team] is excited not only about his size but his athleticism as well."

Gibson, who also has played for the Pittsburgh Junior Penguins and Pittsburgh Predators organizations and also played soccer and baseball when younger before forgoing those sports to concentrate full-time on hockey, first hit the ice with a hockey stick at age 3. He was a defenseman his first season but "my parent said I always liked being in the net, so they figured they'd try me out as a goalie and ever since I've stuck with it."

A butterfly-style goalie, Gibson said he patterns himself after the Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury.

To hear Stern tell it, Gibson has the total package.

"John has tremendous instincts and hockey sense," Stern said. "A lot of times that gets overlooked when people talk about goalies. Everyone talks about forwards and defensemen but they sometimes forget that that's a component of goaltending, too.

"He has unbelievable athleticism, and he's extremely competitive. And he's unflappable. He's just very mature and composed. We like to say a lot of kids are low-maintenance; well, he's no-maintenance.

"That's a pretty rare thing, especially among goaltenders. They can be a quirky bunch, and I think the fact Gibson is so well put-together is something the program is going to appreciate."



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