It's probably a good thing Jack and Sue Gibson recognized the shot blocker in their son at a young age.
Then again, the signs were unavoidable.
"I started out as a defenseman, but ended up in the net helping the goalie out all the time," John Gibson said. "Instead of playing defense, my parents just decided to put me out as a goalie."
He's relished the role ever since.
"I probably started skating when I was 3 or 4 and was playing defense for a team when I was 5," he said. "When I turned 6, I converted to goalie. I guess at the time I just liked to stop pucks but I also liked to be in those pressure situations. I like to have the team rely on you to make the big save and keep them in the game. I do like that kind of pressure, I want to win games."
Gibson has described himself as big and calm -- two traits any professional scout or general manager relishes in a shot blocker. It's also the reason he'll get plenty of looks between now and the 2011 Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minn.
"Just because you're a big goalie doesn't mean you are an athletic goalie, but I think I'm pretty athletic too, so with that package it's a real benefit to my game," the 6-foot-2 3/4, 205-pound Gibson told NHL.com. RELATED: Pittsburgh Native Gibson Enjoys Whirlwind Year >>
Long gone are the days when Gibson used to stop shots with a broomstick against his dad back home in Pittsburgh. Now he's doing it for real with the Under-18 U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. In fact, Gibson is looking to follow in the footsteps of one of the NTDP's most esteemed graduates, Jack Campbell, who was the first American-born player drafted last June when the Dallas Stars called his name with the 11th pick.
Gibson actually has one up on Campbell at this point in his career because, unlike the latter, Gibson just so happens to be the No. 1-rated player at his position on the NHL Central Scouting's midterm release of North American goalies. Campbell was rated No. 2 at the midway point last year. Joe Exter, goalie coach for the NTDP, has had a first-hand look at what all the fuss is about.
"He has size and presence in the net, and moves with power," Exter said. "The best part is he's not just a limited goaltender for being a big guy. He's multi-dimensional. He has power, athleticism, and he's got good flexibility. And those parts of his game allow him to have success at the high level. He also has a calm demeanor in the net."
After making 22 appearances with the Under-17 U.S. National Team last year, posting an 8-12-1 mark with a 3.76 goals-against average and .895 save percentage, Gibson went unbeaten in two games with the Under-18 Team, finishing with a 2.00 GAA and .932 save percentage. The University of Michigan-bound goalie also compiled a 3-1-1 record, 2.87 GAA and .917 save percentage in six international games.
"John has great net coverage and size and is very strong," NHL Central Scouting's Al Jensen told NHL.com. "He's sound technically, moves very well laterally and is controlled. He's calm, not busy."
In 21 games with the Under-18 team this season, Gibson is 8-9-2 with a 3.01 GAA, .911 save percentage and one shutout.
"It's a great honor to be up there (at No. 1 among North American goalies), but mainly my focus is on the rest of the season," Gibson said. "I'll worry about the draft later.RELATED: Gibson Is Top-Ranked North American Goaltender For 2011 NHL Entry Draft >>
"When I came to the (NTDP), I was a pretty calm guy and then, in my first year here, I was kind of new to the experience and didn't have that experience playing at a high level," Gibson explained. "Then I saw Jack (Campbell). He's been around so I looked at him for leadership and saw how calm and composed he was. I just kind of added that to my game and I think it's really benefitted me."
Exter believes there is some validity to the Gibson-Campbell comparisons.
"I believe it's a fair comparison -- John's strength and poise to stay in the moment helps him play to a high level," Exter said. "It also gives the team confidence because when you look back and see a guy who's in there battling and making saves, then, if something goes wrong, you know he's going to bounce back and make up for the score on the next one."
Gibson notched his first shutout of the season on Jan. 14, making 31 saves in a 3-0 triumph over the Green Bay Gamblers in a United States Hockey League matchup. He stopped 10 shots in the first and 13 more in the second against Green Bay, which is atop the Eastern Conference standings with 23 wins and 48 points.
Gibson, who will turn 18 on July 14, is grateful to have earned the No. 1 rating in the eyes of the scouts, but is determined to get even better.
"I was kind of surprised, actually," Gibson said. "But it's a great honor, obviously. I found out the day after the rankings were released and felt pretty good about myself. It's great to be up there, but mainly my focus is on the rest of the season." Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer