Penguins winger Brian Gibbons isn’t a stranger to big games. He won two national championships with Boston College and was a part of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins squad which came back from a 3-0 series deficit against the Providence Bruins to win the Eastern Conference semifinals in seven games last year.
But the Stanley Cup playoffs are a different beast, something Gibbons acknowledged. But he’s thrilled for the opportunity to potentially skate in them.
“I played college, so it was more one-game elimination,” Gibbons said. “I went to BC and we had a lot of success in the playoffs, but it’s obviously different with a series here. I think the past two years in the AHL we made the playoffs, we lost in the conference finals last year. You learn some things from that, but it’s definitely another step up here this year.”
It’s been a long road for Gibbons, who ended up going undrafted. After winning his second national championship with the Eagles, he was invited to Penguins development camp the summer before his senior year at BC, and decided to attend – meaning he had to pay his own way as required of NCAA athletes.
After finishing his college career with a personal-best 51 points in 39 games with the Eagles, he signed a free-agent contract with the Penguins that April before returning to Pittsburgh for a second development camp. After that, Gibbons spent the next two seasons and part of a third developing his game with WBS before earning his first NHL call-up to the Penguins on Nov. 18 with the parent club dealing with a host of injuries. He had a memorable debut, scoring a goal and an assist in his first NHL game that night against Anaheim.
And save for one re-assignment in late November/early December, Gibbons ended up earning the right to stay for essentially the entire second half of the season – playing in 41 games for Pittsburgh and recording 17 total points (5G-12A), highlighted by a three-game assist streak from March 16-20.
Gibbons even moved up to the top-six at times, skating alongside Sidney Crosby at one point and finishing the season on the second line with James Neal and Jussi Jokinen with Evgeni Malkin injured. Now, Gibbons has earned the chance to be with the team as they begin the 2014 playoffs. What a season it’s been for the 26-year-old Massachusetts native after years of hard work.
Gibbons said he wasn’t necessarily expecting to see as much NHL playing time as he did, but is certainly glad for the opportunity.
“I’m not sure I expected to be up here for as long as I have been this year,” Gibbons said. “I just got an opportunity, so I’m just going to take advantage of it, do the best that I can and try to play your game. Whatever happens, happens. You just kind of control what you control.”
The 5’8” forward may be of the smallest guys on the ice, but he’s also one of the fastest.
Gibbons said he’s used to using his speed to his advantage and expects to do so against the Blue Jackets if he’s in the lineup.
“I think it’s nothing different, it’s pretty much the same as every level of hockey I’ve played at, everyone seems to be bigger and faster and stronger,” Gibbons said. “I think just play your game, stick to your strengths and try to beat them to loose pucks. Don’t back down from physical play, just kind of try to use my speed as an asset.”
Gibbons skated on the fourth line with Joe Vitale and Craig Adams during both Tuesday’s practice and Wednesday’s morning skate. He said that the switch from a more offensive role to a defensive-focused one doesn’t faze him, and he’s going to play the game no matter where he is.
“I think I try to play the same way no matter what line I’m on,” Gibbons said. “Just get pucks behind their defense and use my speed to get in on the forecheck and spend as much time in the offensive zone as you can. Just challenge and grind them down, I guess, and try to create opportunities that way.”
While Gibbons is waiting to hear if he will see ice time in the playoffs or not, he’s ready for whatever is ahead.
“If I do get a chance (to play), it’s definitely exciting,” Gibbons said. “You kind of work your whole life for these kinds of opportunities, so just try to take it advantage of it and do the best you can.”