Local players shine on U.S. hockey squad
Three local hockey players recently set a tough example for Lightning left wing Ryan Malone to follow.
John Gibson, J.T. Miller and Barrett Kaib — all alumni of the Pittsburgh Hornets youth hockey organization — helped lead the USA Hockey National Under-17 team to a gold medal in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge this past week in Timmins, Ontario.
Each of the trio of local 16-year-olds played an integral role in the United States' international triumph, according to U.S. coach Ron Rolston.
They represented their country before Upper St. Clair native Malone, another Hornets alumnus, skates for the U.S. in next month's Olympics in Vancouver.
"We've had a lot of good players over the years from (the Pittsburgh) area," said Rolston, in his sixth season as the U-17 coach. "Over the last couple years, especially, there's been a difference in the quality of player to come out of that area. Not only are they producing big players in terms of size and stature, but also difference makers in games and in goal."
Gibson, a 6-foot-2, 188-pound goalie from Whitehall, led the tournament in goals against average (1.33) and save percentage (.957). He stopped 38 of 39 shots in the United States' 2-1 win over Canada-Ontario in the final and only allowed four goals in the three games he played.
Miller, a 6-foot, 192-pound forward from East Palestine, Ohio, tied for the tournament lead with five goals and added three assists.
Kaib, a 5-9, 183-pound Upper St. Clair native, added a goal and an assist as a defenseman, helping the U.S. to a 6-0 tournament record with wins over the Czech Republic, Russia, Sweden and three different teams from Canada.
"I played with Barrett when I was younger, so to finally share a big (championship) means a lot," Gibson said, "especially for me and him and for all the Pittsburgh kids. It shows that kids from Pittsburgh can play and get somewhere if they work hard."
All three played youth hockey for the Hornets and are part of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. They live and go to school from late August through June in Ann Arbor, Mich., while playing a 60-game traveling schedule.
"As a coach, you hope you can give them some guidance, and the kids did a lot of it themselves," said Jeff Potter, coach of the Hornets Under-16 team who coached all three players. "They're still working very hard in Ann Arbor to compete and win and have success at that level."
There are five former Hornets in the Development Program, including Stephen Johns and Brandon Saad, who both play on the Under-18 team.
Malone and Plum-native R.J. Umberger, who's a reserve for the U.S. Olympic team, are Hornets alumni in the NHL.
Rolston said Miller and Gibson, because of their size and potential, also have a real chance to play at that level, while Johns and Saad also are considered strong NHL prospects.
"It's unbelievable knowing that kids from our team could be going to the NHL and could be in the Olympics in the future," Miller said.