He watched from his living room Tuesday night as Team USA captured the World Juniors gold medal - with a Ducks prospect winning MVP, no less - and John Gibson couldn't help but reminisce.
It was seven years ago to the day that Gibson himself carried the U.S. to gold in that very same tournament in Ufa, Russia, taking down defending champion Sweden 3-1 in the gold medal game. The then 19-year-old Gibson had 26 stops in the final, finishing with a 1.36 goals against average and .955 save percentage, and becoming just the second American ever to win World Juniors MVP.
"It was awesome, Gibson said, reminiscing about that tournament after another day of Ducks Training Camp at Great Park Ice in Irvine. "The year before wasn't the best. We didn't make the medal rounds, and then there's a lot of pressure. We kind of put it on ourselves to come back. We were in Russia, so it was definitely tough, but we kind of jelled together.
"Looking back at the team we had and some of the guys that we played with, it was definitely one of the more special moments in my career."
So Gibson could definitely feel what Trevor Zegras was going through Tuesday night, earning tournament Most Valuable Player honors in helping Team USA win gold in a 2-0 victory over Canada. Zegras, taken by the Ducks ninth overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, had a goal and an assist in the gold medal game and over two tournaments tied the all-time U.S. record for both points (27) and assists (20). The Ducks became the only organization in the NHL to have two American World Juniors MVPs.
"It was nice to see Zegras win the MVP, and I thought the U.S. played really well," Gibson said. "You have a tournament like that, it's basically the Stanley Cup for that age group. So, you're pretty much on cloud nine, and hopefully for a guy like him, he can just kind of keep rolling with that and keep building and getting better."
As much as Gibson enjoyed taking in that game, watching others play hockey has probably gotten old. It's been his only option since COVID ended Anaheim's season back in mid-March after the Ducks weren't one of the 24 teams to qualify for the modified playoffs. Gibson spent much of his lengthy offseason back home in Pittsburgh and struggled to find ice to keep in playing shape. He resorted to skating with his brother's under-18 team, the Junior Penguins, who practice at the NHL team's facilities in nearby Cranberry Township.
"It was a safe environment, and I was with them for probably two, two and a half months," Gibson says. "I was on the ice probably from July on, not every day, but obviously a lot earlier than I would be. Being off since March, you just kind of tried to get on the ice as much as you can. We didn't really know when the season was going to start, so you're just kind of skating, trying to stay in the best shape, just kind of waiting to hear. So, it was definitely tough, but I fortunately was able to make the most of the situation I was in."
The almost six months Gibson spent back home in Pittsburgh was unexpected, but it turned out to be a blessing. He and his wife Alexa had a daughter name Sofia back on April 1, "so being able to have the whole family back at home and see everybody was great."
They all returned to Orange County in early November, while Gibson awaited the signal on when everybody could return to camp and when the season would start. Conditioning has been imperative over the past two months and in the Ducks training camp that started December 31, especially with a compacted 56-game schedule that runs from mid-January through early May, with no preseason games. That's part of the reason Gibson has asked head coach Dallas Eakins for more on-ice work so far in camp.
"You've got to get the work in now, whether it's practice doing extra before or after and the scrimmages, cause that's really all we have until the opening night against Vegas (January 14)," says the 27-year-old Gibson. "So, I think anytime you can get it in the extra work, just to iron some things out or work on details or small things or your game, I'm just trying to take every opportunity I can, because once the season gets going, there's not going to be a whole lot of time to practice."
The Ducks come into this campaign with something to prove, having missed the playoffs the past two years after being postseason contenders in Gibson's first five seasons in the league.
"I think if you ask anybody here, we want to make the playoffs and have a chance," Gibson says. "We got used to making the playoffs, and then the last few years, obviously we weren't, so I think that that's the motivation. You see what happens you make to the playoffs and anything can happen. Our goal here is just to be one of the four teams from our division to make it, and then see what happens from there. Hopefully we can go on a run."
Gibson's performance last season was consistent with the team's and not up to his usual standards, something he looks to remedy. But he remained low-key self in addressing his aspirations for the campaign.
"I'm just going to play my game," he says. "and hopefully help the team win as many games as we can."