Grizzlies blueline recruit Justin Gibson forges own path behind NHL brother

Justin Gibson will join the Victoria Grizzlies in September. [Photo courtesy of Justin Gibson]

Cleve Dheensaw / Times Colonist
JANUARY 31, 2021 06:00 AM

From Penguins to Grizzlies, Justin Gibson has upped his game in terms of animal nickname ferocity.

The blueliner from the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Under-18 Triple-A team has been recruited to join the Victoria Grizzlies in September for the 2021-22 B.C. Hockey League season.

The 17-year-old didn’t have to look far in his family for inspiration. It never hurts having a brother in the NHL, even if he plays a different position.

John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks is considered a premier goaltender in the NHL and backstopped the U.S. to the gold medal at the 2013 world junior championship. He is projected among the three goaltenders for the U.S. team to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, with Connor Hellebuyck and Ben Bishop.

Justin Gibson’s pride in his older brother shines through when talking about him.

Despite playing in relative obscurity of late, with the Ducks struggling, John Gibson made headlines last week. He painted his goalie mask in Los Angeles Lakers colours with Kobe Bryant’s numbers 8 and 24, as a tribute on the one-year anniversary of the death of the former NBA superstar, and recorded a shutout in that game.

Despite their 10-year age difference, the older Gibson sibling has always been ready to help out the younger with inspiration and advice.

“My brother has been a great role model and has always been there for me,” said Justin Gibson.

“He has really helped me along my journey. He has told, and shown me, there are always going to be setbacks. But if you work hard, you will get through them.”

As to why he didn’t follow his brother into the crease, Gibson quipped: “Our parents said: ‘Only one goalie in the family.’ ”

The Grizzlies aren’t complaining. They believe they have a solid blueliner for several seasons to come.

“I consider myself a shutdown defender who can also be offensive with a good point shot,” said Gibson, whose blueline role model is NHL veteran Kris Letang of the Penguins.

Growing up in suburban Pittsburgh, Gibson was raised a Penguins, Steelers and Pirates fan. At least one of those affiliations has changed.

“My favourite NHL team now is the Ducks,” he said, for obvious reasons.

Gibson, meanwhile, said he is well aware of the Grizzlies alumni list — which includes NHLers Jamie and Jordie Benn, Stanley Cup-champion Tyler Bozak and first-round NHL draft pick and 2921 Canadian team world junior championship silver-medallist Alex Newhook — in making his decision to come to the BCHL Island Division club.

“I definitely looked at that, but more so all the NCAA college commitments the Grizzlies have every season,” said Gibson.

That is the goal for Gibson.

“I decided this is the best fit for me,” he said.

“In talks, it became clear the coach and GM [Craig Didmon] cares about me as a player and person.”

Gibson is in Grade 12 at North Catholic High School in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, but his junior and senior years have hardly been infused with the normal swirl of sports, clubs and extra-curriculars that are an intrinsic part of the high school experience.

“High school has definitely not been the traditional experience,” he sighed, echoing the thoughts of the entire Class of 2021 across North America.

That has been the sad legacy of the pandemic for high schoolers beginning last March. The Class of 2020 lost the spring season and graduation, but the Class of 2021 has borne the brunt of it. Gibson is hoping for more normalcy in his BCHL junior-hockey career. According to the vaccine timeline, the 2021-22 sports season should be OK. But it is unlikely that much can be salvaged from this hockey season.

“We all hope everyone involved finds a way through this season healthy,” he said.

Then comes a new chapter for Gibson on a different coast in another country. Which seems appropriate with so many pinning their hopes on September for a fresh start.

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