'It's the greatest feeling in the world'
For John Gibson, it's still sinking in.
Not only did the Whitehall native and star hockey player lead Team USA to the World Junior Championships last week, the goaltender took home MVP honors.
Chew on that: A local product was honored as the best hockey player for the best junior hockey team on the globe.
“It's the greatest feeling in the world,” Gibson said. “It's definitely the highlight of my life right now. Regardless of what's ahead, even if I win a Stanley Cup someday, this will be at the top of my list.”
The play of Gibson, an Anaheim Ducks prospect, was nothing short of phenomenal. He went 5-2, had a 1.36 goals-against average, and a .955 save percentage; he event managed two assists.
Gibson, who also was named a tournament all-star and the tournament's top goalie, deflected the adulation to his teammates like he deflects opposing slap shots.
“Obviously, the team played really well in front of me,” he said. “(The individual honors are) a credit to those guys.”
Team USA got off to a rocky start in the tourney, which was held in Ufa, Russia.
The team lost games to Canada and Russia while going 2-2 in preliminary action, but stormed back with three straight wins to capture the crown. During that three-game run, Gibson allowed just two goals.
Team USA beat Sweden, 3-1, in the final game Saturday to take the gold medal, as Gibson stopped 26 of the 27 shots he faced.
“It was a great experience, winning the gold and everything,” he said. “You couldn't have drawn it up much more perfect than that … we connected and came together as a team quickly. That helped us have a long run.”
Three other Western Pennsylvania products were on the squad in Upper St. Clair's Vincent Trocheck, Washington's Riley Barber and Coraopolis' J.T. Miller.
In addition to being a hockey experience to remember, it also was a cultural experience Gibson never will forget.
“Culturally, it's pretty different. The food and everything is different,” he said.
Getting to and from Russia was not easy. Gibson had to drive from Kitchener to Toronto, then fly to New York, then Finland and, finally, Russia. Each way took approximately 32 hours.
“That was tough,” he said. “It's an 11-hour time difference … I think it's harder getting used to coming back.”
With the tournament behind him, it's back to focusing on his goal of becoming an NHL player. A second-round pick of the Ducks in 2011, Gibson currently plays for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League.
“Right now, I'm just taking everything as it comes,” he said. “I'm focused on our season at Kitchener.”
Brian Knavish is a freelance writer.