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Calm aura helps Ducks' Gibson in battle for No. 1 job

by Abbey Mastracco

ANAHEIM -- John Gibson isn't much of a talker.

When he became the youngest goaltender to record a shutout in his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut, the capacity media crowd in the Anaheim Ducks dressing room left disappointed, with only a handful of quotes.

Does he talk to his coach, Bruce Boudreau, much?

"Nope," Boudreau said, laughing. "I get what you get."

What about his goalie coach, Dwayne Roloson?

"Not really," Roloson said. "He's pretty calm and quiet."

Ducks goalie John Gibson shut out the Kings in his NHL postseason debut. (Photo: Getty Images)

It's funny, because Gibson sure does know how to make noise.

You might remember Gibson from that NHL postseason debut, a 2-0 win against the Los Angeles Kings in Game 4 of the 2014 Western Conference Second Round. Gibson, barely 20 years old, was so good he forced veteran Jonas Hiller to the bench.

Or you might remember him from the 2013 World Junior Championship, in which he recorded a 1.36 goals-against average and .955 save percentage in seven games, helping the U.S. to a gold medal. He was 18 years old at the time.

"He just had a calming presence," current Ducks and former U.S. teammate Nate Thompson said. "He was the kind of goalie that didn't get fazed in net if something was going wrong. And that says a lot about a goalie who was on a pretty big stage and a pretty big tournament at that age."

Gibson has kept that same sense of calm even when things seemed to veer off course. And it's that same calming presence that has him back on course, riding a hot streak with the Ducks.

"That's how I've always been," Gibson said. "I've always just been relaxed and I try to have fun. That's what I'm doing and that's what I'll keep doing."

Gibson's stellar playoff debut didn't have a Cam Ward-like ending; the Kings eliminated the Ducks in seven games. Early last season, a groin injury kept Gibson out of action for several weeks. Once he was healthy, the free-agent signing of Ilya Bryzgalov had Gibson back in the American Hockey League, where he stayed for most of last season and where he began this one.

It was beneficial in that he was able to play every night, but Gibson was confident he was ready to play consistently in the NHL.

"Any time you're playing games you always feel better, so it was fun to play," Gibson said. "I just think that being in my second year, I'm much more comfortable up here and I know what's going to happen."

It's become clear Gibson is, in fact, ready. Since his most recent recall, Gibson is 4-4-1, including a win against his hometown Pittsburgh Penguins, with a 1.90 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage.

"He's usually ahead of the play now, 90 percent of the time," Roloson said. "Up here, he was usually behind the play the first couple years. But now, and even starting at the end of last year, he's ahead of the play. He's getting better reads, he's getting a lot more confident with the reads, and you can see his transition growing."

With the way the Ducks are constructed, Gibson's ultra-calm demeanor is a perfect fit.

"I think if you had an animated guy, our guys would get a little rambunctious, maybe," Roloson said. "Maybe that's a little harsh of a word, but they might get a little rattled internally. All three goalies we have here right now, they all come in the game and they calm things down for us and slow the game down. They all slow it down perfectly for us and allow us to get our feet under us."

But as Roloson said, there are two other goalies in the mix. Frederik Andersen staked his claim to the No. 1 spot last season, earning the trust of his teammates and coaches with his consistency and puck-handling. Anton Khudobin, who came to the Ducks from the Carolina Hurricanes in an offseason trade, started the season as Andersen's backup but cleared waivers Tuesday and was assigned to the AHL.

It has created quite the competition, which Boudreau said is mostly healthy, but tough nonetheless.

"[Gibson] should be comfortable, but not too comfortable, because there's three of them," Boudreau said. "Three goalies, sometimes, is not a great situation. But you do the best you can, and as long as you've got good professional people there, they'll work hard. And all three goalies are."

Andersen has made it clear he's not ready to relinquish his top spot yet.

"It's frustrating to stand there and look at someone else in practice and in games too," Andersen said. "You want to take advantage when you're in there. It's definitely different from personality to personality, but when things are going like this, I feel like I want to do more and work harder than the other guy. I want to be out there working the hardest of all of us."

It should come as no surprise Gibson didn't have much to say about the goalie competition. He's just trying to work hard, have fun and stop pucks, he said. He hopes to stop enough to keep playing at the NHL level and maybe even at the international level again, for Team North America in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

"Hopefully they watch," Gibson said. "It would be a great experience, but I'm more worried about this right here."

That's the thing about Gibson: He's content to let his play do all the talking for him. So far, it has.

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