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Pittsburgh Connection Makes Winning Gold Extra Special

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
John Gibson, J.T. Miller and Barrett Kaib became best friends during their two years with the U.S. National Team Development Program thanks to their Pittsburgh-area connections.

And it’s those same Steel City ties that made the three of them take a step back and reflect after leading Team USA to their third-straight gold medal at the World Under-18 Championship.

“We immediately went to each other in the celebration in the last game,” Miller said. “I feel like since all three of us are pretty much best friends on the team and for us to get to share that together before we depart and go to college over the next year, it was just an amazing feeling for all of us.”

Gibson agreed, saying “Sharing it with the team and everything was great, but I think it was a little bit more special sharing it with those guys, especially because we’re all so close and everything.

“Just talking with J.T. after the game, you just kind of thought about it for a second, how special it is and everything. So it was definitely really fun and I really enjoyed sharing it with those guys.”

All three players – who just finished their second year with the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. – grew up playing developmental hockey in the Pittsburgh area and are all former members of the Pittsburgh Hornets elite travel program.

Gibson, 17, grew up in Whitehall and played for the Hornets his sophomore year of high school after spending time with a variety of local teams, including the Pittsburgh Predators.

Kaib, an Upper St. Clair native, skated alongside Gibson with the Predators before heading to the Hornets, while Miller – whose dad lives in East Palestine, Ohio (the first city inside the Ohio border) and whose mom lives in Moon – played in Beaver County before making the Hornets at age 12. He spent five years with them before joining the U.S. NTDP.

Goaltender John Gibson. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Murnaghan/HHOF-IIHF Images).
So while their paths crossed growing up, they never got much of a chance to hang out until relocating to Michigan.

“The Pittsburgh thing definitely helped,” Miller, 18, said. “We always ride home together when we’re allowed to go home. It’s just that we spend a lot more time together than anybody else.”

Kaib couldn’t say enough about what it meant to him, Gibson and Miller to help the Pittsburgh developmental hockey system get on the map with their recent accomplishments.

“It’s great. We’re all big-time Pens and Steelers fans and we like to represent our city,” he said. “We love where we come from, we love where we were born and raised. We love Pittsburgh and it’s just great what hockey’s come from in the city. When I was growing up playing, it wasn't the best of the best. But now there’s a lot more people getting involved and there’s going to be a lot more talented players coming out of the Pittsburgh area for years to come.”

Miller agreed, saying “I think it’s great for Pittsburgh to have all of these good players, and (great) for the Hornets representation as well, to help get Pittsburgh on the map a little better. It was great for all of us.”

Forward J.T. Miller. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Murnaghan/HHOF-IIHF Images)
He also cited other Pittsburgh-area prospects like Brandon Saad, Vincent Trocheck and Michael Houser, who all spent the 2010-11 season in the Ontario Hockey League. Saad actually won a gold medal for Team USA last year at the 2010 World Under-18 Championships in Minsk, Belarus.

"I feel like (developmental hockey in Pittsburgh) has really grown over these last few years with me, Barrett and John, and Mike Houser, Brandon Saad and Vince Trochek are also ranked very high right now," Miller said. "I just feel like coming up, hopefully we can keep it going by just having these good players and I think it puts Pittsburgh on the map."

Miller, Kaib and Gibson all played significant roles in Team USA’s success.

Gibson was named the tournament’s best goaltender after posting a perfect 6-0 record, 2.34 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.

He came up with his two biggest performances when his team needed them most, stopping 28 of 31 shots in the championship game against Sweden, a 4-3 overtime victory, after making 38 saves in the semifinal matchup against Canada, which also went overtime.

Miller finished with a team-high 13 points (4G-9A) and tied for third in overall tournament scoring. He helped the Americans rally from a 3-1 deficit to an eventual 5-4 overtime win over Canada with his goal and two assists in the semifinals before notching a pair of helpers against Sweden.

Defenseman Barrett Kaib. (Photo courtesy of Tom Sorenson).
Kaib, a defenseman, played a vital role on Team USA’s back-end, recording two assists and finishing with a plus-7 rating that tied for the team lead among blueliners.

"We’ve been with this program for two years now, and we’ve become a bunch of brothers and like family now," Miller said. "All we wanted was to get gold at that tournament. It was the number one goal that all of us have been pushing for, and when we were finally able to come back from that (deficit in the gold-medal game), it was just the biggest sigh of relief and it was the best thing we could ever hope for. It was awesome."

All three players have a busy summer ahead of them. They’re eligible for the NHL Entry Draft in June, have tryouts for the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championships coming up and are preparing for their freshman years of college (Gibson will suit up for Michigan, Miller for North Dakota and Kaib for Providence).

But until then, they’re going to let them themselves enjoy the moment and try to let the enormity of winning a gold medal for their country and for their city sink in.

“With winning the gold medal and everything, it’s kind of all a whirlwind,” Gibson said. “I actually don’t even think it’s sunk in yet, I’m kind of still in disbelief that it happened like that and it’s gone already. It’s definitely an experience I’ll never forget, but it’s something that takes a while to sink in and just to really think about what you just did and what you accomplished and what you actually won.”
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