It is a testament to Christopher Gibson’s dexterity that the Toronto Marlies 20-year-old goalie handles the puck as he would a hand grenade.
He has handled hand grenades. He prefers pucks but sometimes they don’t give the kid a choice.
Gibson is one of the more arresting stories on the Marlies, a private in the Finnish army who this summer fulfilled half of the 180 days of military service every Finnish male is obliged to provide. His North American peers, meanwhile, hung out at the cottage and worked out.
The Leafs tendered Gibson a three-year entry level contract this summer. The Los Angeles Kings invested a second-round draft pick in him in 2011 after an encouraging year with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens
but two poor years followed and the Kings cut bait.
Leafs scout Mike Palmateer, one of the club’s best-ever goalies, liked what he saw in Gibson in junior and his thoughts went a long way in convincing the Leafs brass to take Gibson on.
There is no hurry for Gibson. Thirty-year-old Drew MacIntyre tended goal as the Marlies won their first two contests in the young season. That leaves Gibson and another 20-year-old, Garret Sparks to position themselves for the long-term picture.
Gibson is considered a strong puck-handler which brings us back to the grenades. He didn’t’ like them.
“It’s scary whenever you have a grenade in your hand,” he said and as long as this hockey season goes that statement will always be true. “The instructors told us about how a guy put his together wrong and he was killed when it exploded. Then, half an hour later, we were assembling them but they were very careful with us and everything went fine.”
Gibson’s story can be traced back three decades when a British martial arts instructor named Peter Gibson fell in love with a Finnish aux pere named Ulla Perttilahti in England.
The two eventually moved to Ulla’s home country and had a couple of kids. Goaltending is as natural as taking your first breath in Finland but during a minor hockey tournament in Quebec young Christopher became convinced that his future involved tending goal in North America. He attended Notre Dame College, a noted hockey factory in Wilcox, Saskatchewan and somehow the Sagueneens came calling.
As an army private and an AHL rookie Gibson stands at the bottom of the pecking order year round. So while some may find a two-hour practice excessive no one is screaming to get out of bed at 5:30 in time for a 30 kilometer hike complete with a full pack.
“I was tired every single day,” Gibson said. “There were some guys fainting and throwing up. We had our guns and full war suits on. It was tough. It was a different type of workout, that’s for sure.”