As bronze adorned John Gibson’s red, white and blue uniform during the medal ceremony at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, a certain fact became evident: this young goaltender is about to be in high demand.
But first, let’s look back at how Gibson jumped to the top of several scouting wish lists in such a short period of time.
Gibson’s accolades started five months prior at the World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.
The American goaltender’s 1.36 goals against average and 95.5 save percentage in Ufa not only secured a gold medal for Team USA, but it also earned him Tournament MVP honours in the process.
That was against players his age.
Surely, not much was expected of the 19-year-old at the World Championship playing against top professionals from Europe and North America.
Or was it?
Team USA head coach Joe Sacco tapped Gibson to start against host Finland in the American’s fourth preliminary round game – a tough test to say the least in front of a partisan Helsinki crowd.
After giving up an early first-period goal to Jarno Koskiranta, Gibson stymied the Finns for the remaining 54 minutes, stopping 31 of 32 shots from the opposition in all, to give Team USA a 4-1 win and three important points.
Speaking of his ability to be so opportunistic, Gibson said: “Anytime you get to play for your country, it’s a major honour. My approach was to be ready when called upon and not do anything differently. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Gibson would go on to start one more preliminary round game against Germany – a convincing 3-0 shutout of the Germans.
Alex Galchenyuk, Gibson’s teammate on both the World Junior and senior squads, says the goaltender is a strong presence in the crease.
“When John is in net you just have a confident feeling as a skater. You don’t have to worry so much about playing extra defence. Instead, you can focus on playing attacking offence,” said Galchenyuk.
A shaky performance against Slovakia by the other American goaltender, Ben Bishop, convinced Sacco to start Gibson against the high-octane attack of Russia (which bolstered its roster by adding Alexander Ovechkin prior to the game) in the quarter-final round.
Buoyed by eight U.S. goals, Gibson stopped 31 of 34 Russian shots advancing his team to the semi-finals, while sending an extremely disappointed Russian team home.
When asked about his mental approach against the likes of Ovechkin, Alexander Radulov and Ilya Kovalchuk, Gibson said: “You definitely notice when those guys are on the ice, but you have to stay steady. They shoot the puck like anyone else and you have to play the same way against them.”
The U.S. would then fall to Switzerland in the semi-finals, setting up a rematch against a medal hungry Finnish squad in the bronze medal match.
Gibson was tremendous again, including some critical saves late in the game to keep the game tied at 2-2 and in overtime as Finland attacked relentlessly. He would make two more massive saves in the shootout as Team USA went on to win its first medal at the World Championship since 2004.
“It was unbelievable what John pulled off in that tournament – especially in overtime and the shootout. He gave us a chance to win the medal and I think he was absolutely our MVP,” said Galchenyuk.
In so doing, Gibson, Galchenyuk and defenceman Jacob Trouba became the first Americans in history to win medals at the World Junior and World Championship tournaments in the same year.
Now, the focus switches to Gibson’s professional future and speaking of NHL talent, everyone agrees Gibson fits the bill.
But where will he play?
Gibson was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, 39th overall, but currently plays in the Ontario Hockey League with the Kitchener Rangers.
At present, the crease in Anaheim is extremely crowded with the likes of Switzerland’s Jonas Hiller and Sweden’s Viktor Fasth occupying the starting and backup roles.
The two were quite the formidable duo for a dominant Anaheim team this past season.
And, with Gibson NHL ready, is there a team willing to trade for his services?
Gibson says he’s not concerned with all of the possible scenarios.
“Just like with this tournament, I’ll be ready to capitalize on the opportunity whenever and wherever is comes,” he said.
Similar to all the scouts at the World Championship, Galchenyuk is excited about Gibson’s future.
“I can’t wait to see him in the NHL. He’s definitely ready for the next level. John has a great work ethic and approach to the game. I’ve told him that he’s ready,” Galchenyuk remarked.
Whether Gibson’s NHL debut comes in Anaheim or somewhere else, his pair of medals in 2013 proves that the 19-year-old is prepared to compete against the best in the world.