By Adam Brady
Never too high, never too low is the ideal temperament for a professional hockey goalie. And it’s one that young John Gibson seems to display on a constant basis.
Despite making his NHL debut last night in Vancouver at the tender age of 20, Gibson was the picture of tranquility as he saved all 18 Canucks shots on his way to a triumphant shutout.
“This was just like old hat to him,” said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau after the game. “If it was me at 20 years old, and I played my first game and scored a goal, I would’ve been smiling from ear to ear. He was just very relaxed. That’s just the way he is.”
Gibson not only blanked the Canucks, but made some history as well. At 20 years and 297 days, he became the youngest NHL goalie since Buffalo's Darren Puppa (Nov. 1 1985 @ EDM, 20 years, 223 days) to record a shutout in his NHL debut. The last NHL goaltender of any age to record a shutout in his NHL debut was Al Montoya (24 years and 47 days) of the Coyotes on April 1, 2009 at Colorado.
Yet a day later back in Anaheim, following an optional practice at Honda Center, Gibson remained his stoic self as he relived the experience.
“It was fun,” deadpanned the Pittsburgh native. “The team played really well in front of me and made my job easier. When there were loose pucks, they threw them away. That helped a lot. You’ve got to give a lot of credit to them.”
Gibson was told by Boudreau on the bus following a loss Sunday night in Edmonton that he would get the start Monday evening. He soon called his parents and his agent, who arranged to have Mom and Dad Gibson flown west to Vancouver watch their son’s debut in person.
“I just wanted to enjoy the experience, and it was nice to have them there last night” Gibson said. “There is only one first game, so I knew it would be a special day and I wanted to enjoy it. I wanted to treat it like any other day, but obviously there is a little more emotion.”
Gibson’s calm demeanor comes partly from a comfort with being on the big stage. Among his extensive international experience was his backstopping Team USA to a gold medal at last year’s IIHF World Junior Championship in Russia, where is put up a 5-0-2 record and was selected Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
This season, he’s been with Anaheim’s AHL affiliate in Norfolk, where he has posted a 21-17-4 record with a 2.34 goals-against average, .919 save percentage and five shutouts. At the time of his recall to fill in for the injured Frederik Andersen, Gibson ranked third among AHL goalies in GAA, seventh in SV%, second in shutouts and sixth in saves.
He said today that his experience helped calm his nerves, but nothing compares to making your debut in the NHL. “It helps a little bit, but at the same time there were still a lot of nerves,” he admitted. “You’ve never played in an NHL game before, and there is nothing really that compares to that.”
Gibson said he was encouraged just before puck drop by a few words from a pretty special teammate – Teemu Selanne. “Before the game, he came down and just said, ‘Good luck and have fun.' I thought that was cool. Just being able to play with him is special.”
Throughout the game, the guys in front of him did everything they could to take the pressure off the rookie, giving Vancouver little room all night and holding the Canucks to just 18 shots. Even with a comfortable 3-0 late in the third, it was apparent the Ducks were doing all they could to secure Gibson’s shutout. And they satisfaction in doing that showed as they enthusiastically congratulated the kid after the horn with hugs and affectionate head-butts.
“Obviously there are a lot of special guys in here, whether it’s Selanne or Getzlaf or even the younger guys like “Devo” (Devante Smith-Pelly) who I’ve played with for a little while,” Gibson said. “It’s nice to share the experience with all those guys.”
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