SOPHOMORES GIBBONS & THOMPSON LOOK TO CONTINUE GROWTH
By: Adam Williams
The 2011-12 season started out quite differently for then-Penguins rookie forwards Brian Gibbons and Paul Thompson. One saw immediate success from the first drop of the puck and the other slowly gained his stride throughout the year. Looking to build upon their first professional season in the AHL, Gibbons and Thompson will search for consistent outputs in the 2012-13 campaign.
Brian Gibbons won two National Championships with Boston College from 2007-11 and was a point-per-game player for the Eagles putting up 164 points (56g-108a) in 160 contests. Becoming the 14th player in the university’s illustrious program to register 100 assists, his strong start did not surprise many.
The Braintree, MA-native began the year auspiciously enough by scoring Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s first goal of 2011-12 – a shorthanded one at that - in the season opener against rival Hershey. His splash on the scene continued as he added 14 points (4g-10a) in the next 21 games.
Having set the bar high during the first month of the season, the contrast was stark when Gibbons went through the valley that are familiar part of the ups and downs of any player’s first year in the pros. After missing two games from November 23rd-26th, Gibbons skated in 22 matches that saw him put up just one goal and four assists.
Attending this summer’s Penguins Development Camp, the five-foot-eight forward looked to improve in areas of his game both on and off the ice to have a more consistent second season.
“Getting stronger,” Gibbons said. “You know, with my size going up against bigger guys, you need to have a strong core. You can always be stronger and on the ice, trying to get a stronger shot and a quicker release.”
“You see where you’re weak and what areas you need to work on for the rest of the summer heading into the season,” added Gibbons. “I’m just trying to learn as much as I can about where my game’s at and where my strength is at off the ice.”
Meanwhile, Thompson’s rookie season was like a slow burn.
From 2007-11, the Methuen, MA-native excelled at the University of New Hampshire. During his senior season, Thompson won the Hockey East Player of the Year award, led the Hockey East conference in scoring with 52 points (28g-24a) and would also become a Hobey Baker Award finalist.
After playing twenty games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Thompson was sent down to the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL on December 17th. Prior to the reassignment, he had only registered four goals and three assists. In his only game with the Nailers, he scored a goal and added a helper; a performance that made things click for the rugged right winger.
“It was a wake up call,” Thompson said. “It made me realize what I needed to work on and that it wouldn’t be an easy task to stay up there.”
Upon return to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on December 18th against Albany, the Wildcat graduate did not score right away, but his increased commitment on the ice was noticeable. On January 7th against Syracuse, his hard work was finally rewarded with a two assist performance in a 4-3 loss.
In five games after returning from Wheeling, Thompson accumulated seven points (3g-4a), quickly doubling his season total. Though his numbers would not rack up at same torrid rate through the second of the season (25 points of total 67 games), Thompson’s intensity in all three zones provided for a solid overall rookie season.
This summer’s development camp was a different experience for the highest scoring New Hampshire native in UNH’s program. Having attended last summer, Thompson was more familiar with the faces and the locker room and what was expected at camp.
“I tried to come into camp in as good as shape as I could from being off the ice for a while and I think I did,” said Thompson. “I wanted to make an impression on the coaches.”
He added, “I was one of the older guys in the locker room, being in my third camp, so I tried to keep myself available for the younger guys.”
Spurred on by the motivation to improve, Gibbons and Thompson pushed themselves, while providing a veteran presence for the newer faces at this summer’s development camp. The two attendees battled against one another in 3-on-3 and 5-on-5 scrimmages as well as some activities off the ice, including a prospect paintball game.
“I don’t think we hit each other once,” said Thompson, referring back to a paintball game. “I’m pretty sure my team won more games than his, so I think that gives me the edge.”
Gibbons and Thompson may have been enemies on the paintball field, but they will once again be teammates donning the Penguins sweater. Both men enjoyed a solid rookie season and look to build the consistency that will ensure a successful sophomore go-round.