Gibbons named to all-star team 

Junior A hockey star credits Whistler minor hockey with his development

Whistler’s Matt Gibbons, a leading forward on the Chilliwack Chiefs Junior A hockey team, was selected to the B.C. Hockey League’s annual All Star Game by the coaches and general managers of the teams.

"It was pretty exciting to be named," says the 19-year-old Gibbons. "I got the third most votes of all the players, so it’s definitely nice to be noticed."

Gibbons got 93 votes, while Myles Kuharski of the Nanaimo Clippers got 122 and P. Napert-Frenette of the Victoria Salsa received 97.

Each team selected their picks for the top four forwards, two defencemen and a goalie, then the coaches were asked to rank these selections. Coaches and GM’s weren’t allowed to vote for their own players.

This is only the 19-year-old’s third season with the Chiefs, and at this point he is ranked 11th offensively in the BCHL. He has 18 goals, and 40 assists to his credit in just 36 games. The previous year he had had 23 goals and 35 assists in 56 games.

"I think the biggest difference is more ice time," says Gibbons, who was home in Whistler enjoying the Christmas break. "Maturity definitely helps, and the fact that I’m one of the older players. I don’t have a night off.

"That and we’re a really good team, and that always helps."

So far the Chiefs are leading the Coastal Conference with 26 wins, 8 losses and two ties. The are 19 points up of the second place South Surrey Eagles, and are already looking to the post-season.

They won their last game against the Prince George Spruce Kings by a score of 11 to 4.

Gibbons has always stood out as a strong two-way player who was tough in the corners and unselfish with the puck. Although he is only five feet 10 inches tall, he weighs in at 190 pounds.

"It’s a physical league, and I play for a team that’s known to be a physical team," says Gibbons. "The biggest adjustment was from going from a team in Whistler where you’re expected to do a lot, to a team in Junior A where you’re not expected to do very much. It’s kind of too easy to accept that. You have to take it upon yourself to take on extra responsibilities."

Although he played with the Richmond Sockeyes junior hockey team before making the leap to Junior A, Gibbons still credits his performance to the experience he gained in Whistler. He is one of three Whistler players to make the Junior A, and he is confident that he won’t be the last all-star that his hometown will produce.

"There’s a lot of great athletes in Whistler, but one of the problems is that there are almost too many sports to choose from. There’s a lot of hockey, so there will be lots of good hockey players to follow," he says.

"I think it has a lot to do with our minor hockey program up here. There are lots of dedicated coaches that really know the game, and know how to teach the game, and that definitely helps."

Although the all-star game may not be as physical as a lot of games, Gibbons says he wants to play well and will take the game seriously – for the sake of the game as much as for the fact that there will undoubtedly be scouts in the audience that night.

"It will be a break from the Chiefs, but I’m representing the team there. But winning the Royal Bank Cup is my goal this year."

The Royal Bank Cup is awarded to the winner of the National Junior A Hockey Champions.

Next year, Gibbons is looking into the possibility of playing NCAA hockey in the U.S. on a scholarship with a first division school. He has already spoken to scouts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (better known as RPI) in New York State, Union in New York, and Michigan State.

Harvey Smyl, the head coach for the Chiefs, will lead the Coastal Conference against the Interior Conference in the All-Star game in Nanaimo on Jan. 16, 2002.

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