November 1, 2011

AHL Journal: Gibbons getting chance to soar with WBS

Brian Gibbons (Braintree, Mass.) of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (photo: Dan Hickling photo)

An ornithological miracle?

Probably not.

But it's quite striking to see how easily Brian Gibbons has morphed from soaring Eagle to Baby Penguin.

Talk about birds of different feathers.

However, Gibbons (Braintree, Mass./Boston College) has already shown an ability to make the swoop from college hockey to the pros.

Gibbons, a high-scoring winger who went undrafted by the NHL, hooked on with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins as a free agent after four stellar years (with two national championship rings) at BC.

It's taken him little time to settle in, racking up a point per game (3-6-9), third-best among the Pens, after less than a full month as a pro.

“The older guys have made it pretty easy for the rookies,” said Gibbons. “They really kind of show us the way and make us feel like we're part of the team right away. It started the moment we walked in the door. We owe a lot to the older guys.”

Maybe he's racking up a few IOUs from some of the vets, too.

A case in point came in the third period of last Saturday's 4-1 win at Manchester. Gibbons, who normally plays the wing, won a clean offensive-zone draw, and then swiveled in alone on Manchester goalie Jeff Zatkoff.

At the last moment, he dished off to grizzled winger Niko Dimitrakos for the easy tap-in.

“That's something that we work on in practice,” said Gibbons. “We kind of have some set plays on face-offs and that was one of them. So it was good to have the hard work pay off.”

And it's Gibbons' elbow grease that has begun to win over John Hynes (Warwick, R.I), the Baby Pens' second-year coach.

“He's been really good,” Hynes said. “He's a smart player with speed. He's got great instincts. Now you're really starting to see a consistent work ethic and competitiveness, night in and night out.

Gibbons is another of a growing flock of Pittsburgh prospects to have been hatched out of Hockey East.

Perhaps the Pens focus on the league is understandable, considering the presence of league alums such as assistant to the GM Tom Fitzgerald (Billerica, Mass./Providence College), pro scout Kevin Stevens (Brockton, Mass./BC), amateur scouting chief Jay Heinbuck (Northeastern) and, yes, Bill Guerin (Wilbraham, Mass./BC) all listed on the company masthead.

“There's a lot of them, for sure,” said Hynes.

And, oh, let's not forget that Hynes helped lead Boston University to the1995 NCAA title.

Currently, there are eight Hockey East products on the Baby Pens' roster, a group that includes rookie Paul Thompson (Derry, N.H./New Hampshire), Cody Wild (Limestone, Maine/Providence), Colin McDonald (Hartford, Conn./Providence), Dimitrakos (Boston, Mass./ Maine) and Brad Thiessen (Northeastern).

“Hockey East is a great league,” said Gibbons, “and has a lot of good coaches that do a good job getting you ready for the next level. It just kind of works out that we have a lot of guys on the team here. It helps you fit in and feel more comfortable.”

Not to be forgotten are young defensemen Philip Samuelsson and Carl Sneep, who, with Gibbons, make for a sizable dressing-room nesting of ex-BC Eagles.

“It's definitely good to know that you have a few really close buddies (already) on the team,” said Gibbons. “If you ever need something, they're there for you.”

Around the AHL

The Sean Avery Era (Part Deux) in Connecticut didn't last very long. The controversial winger and fashionista skated just two games with the Whale (netting one goal) before being recalled by the New York Rangers. Avery's first stint in Hartford came three years ago and lasted eight games. … One casualty of the freakish October snow dump that pounded New England was the 1st annual Bowling with the Falcons, which had been set for Wednesday. With severe power outages still being experienced throughout Greater Springfield, the Birds opted to postpone the event until a later date, yet to be determined. … Hynes, who won the Pieri Award last year as the AHL's top coach, continues to show why he is a bench boss to be reckoned with. Witness last Saturday's tilt at Manchester. Holding a 3-0 lead early in the third period, and outshooting the hosts 30-12 at the time, Hynes used his timeout to pull his team off the ice and tear into them for small things he didn't like. “We have a lot of respect for Manchester,” he said, “and thought they were going to come back. I thought that mentally we weren't as detailed as we needed to (be). When you're coming from behind or playing with a lead, it's a skill. We have to do a better job of being mentally tougher when we have a lead.”

Dan Hickling can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.