NORTH RICHLAND HILLS, TX -- It’s about a half hour’s drive from the NYTEX Sports Center in North Richland Hills, Texas, to the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
It may be a short drive from the home of the North American Hockey League’s Lone Star Brahmas to the site of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, but Brahmas goalie Mitchell Gibson knows there’s a far greater distance between where he is now and the National Hockey League game.
Gibson was ranked 16th overall among North American Goalies by the NHL Central Scouting Service, but even if you are drafted – and if your name’s not Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews, or possibly even Rasmus Dahlin – that is just an invitation to the party.
You still have to put in the work to get there.
“I was happy with it,” said Gibson, a Harvard recruit for 2019, about the ranking. “It’s a little bit of a testament to what I’ve been doing the second half of the year. I moved up a little [from 18th in the Mid-Term Rankings], so I’m proud of that.
“Our whole organization is excited for him,” added Brahmas head coach Dan Wildfong. . “Just to even be on this list is an honor. He knows he still has to have a good playoff run, but he has a great opportunity ahead of him.”
The North American Hockey League has a gleaming history of producing NHL goalies – most recently, Vezina Trophy finalist Connor Hellebuyck is a perfect example – and the Brahmas themselves have recently put together a collection of drafted alumni.
“We also had another goalie, Jake Kupsky, who was drafted. He’s now at Union, and a defenseman [Cameron Clarke] was also drafted,” said Wildfong.
The Brahmas also won the 2017 Robertson Cup, and Gibson is doing everything he can to try to help Lone Star repeat. This year, he was the No. 1 NAHL goalie in three major categories – save percentage (.935), goals-against average (1.59) and shutouts (11). He had almost twice as many shutouts as his next closest competitor.
“I feel 100 percent we can get back to the Robertson Cup. That was the theme when I came in here, to win back-to-back Cups,” said Gibson. “We have a really good mindset. We were 14-0-1 going into playoffs. The Brahmas have given me so many opportunities to develop my game. There’s a ton of off-ice training and on-ice training. The amenities are second to none, and the weather’s great – with every day being 70 degrees, it makes it easier to get out of bed with a positive outlook.”
“Mitchell has had a really good year for us. To be in that class, getting 11 shutouts, that’s something that you don’t see every year,” said Wildfong.
Harvard University certainly saw a lot in Gibson, offering him a spot in 2019, and there are a lot of NHL teams that have seen what Gibson can do, as well.
“He’s very mobile, very quick down low. His rebound control is phenomenal,” added Wildfong. “His mental side of the game is very strong, with the way he sets pucks to help the defense break out.”
In their first two games against the Odessa Jackalopes (Hellebuyck’s former team), the Brahmas picked up wins and were hoping to close them out on April 20 in their first round match-up.
“I’m a goalie who likes to put his team into a position to win, and [my stats] prove my consistency every night,” Gibson said. “I’m very detail-oriented. I feel like I do a lot of the little things correct – standing on top of the crease, being very flexible. I take a lot of pride in being an athlete as a whole. A lot of training goes into my game – there’s a good translation between what I do off the ice and what happens on the ice.”
From the time he was in his mid-teens, Gibson was getting high-level coaching. When the Phoenixville, Pa., native was with the Team Comcast 16U team, his head coach was former NHL All-Star defenseman – and former Dallas Stars great – Derian Hatcher.
“When I was there, we also had Kimmo Timonen’s son, so we had a lot of Philadelphia Flyers alumni helping out with the team,” he said.
From 2015-17, Gibson cut his teeth with the Philadelphia Jr. Flyers Tier-1 18U team, developing under 35-year Midget coach Bud Dombroski. He also earned himself a 1-game rehearsal with the NAHL’s Johnstown Tomahawks back in 2015-16.
Last year, he received possibly the most pleasant surprise of his life – a call from Paul Pearl, assistant coach of Harvard University.
“I got a call after one of my National Select Festival camps, and Paul said Harvard was interested,” added Gibson. “I went to a Harvard vs. Cornell game, we talked, and they offered. It took me less than a week before I wrote back to them saying ‘Yes.’ I felt like it is a perfect fit for me. I’m very excited for what those four years will bring to my game.”
In the meantime, he’s living in the present, and chasing that precious Robertson Cup.
All things considered, he’s also excited for what could happen that second-to-last weekend of June just down Interstate 30. Even if he didn’t realize the Draft was going to be there, originally.
“I hadn’t put it together,” Gibson said. “Fans were telling me they were thinking of buying tickets, and I asked them, ‘Wow! Where’s the draft going to be?’”