Growing up in an ultra-competitive household, Toledo Walleye defenseman Kevin Gibson detested losing.
Gibson and his two brothers went at it in just about every sport, never yielding an inch. As the son of Detroit Tigers legend Kirk Gibson, Kevin Gibson saw first hand what it meant to be a fierce competitor.
“I don't know if it's something you inherit. Maybe that makes sense,” Gibson said. “I'm an extremely competitive person. I hate to lose.”
While his father made his name in baseball as a tough-as-nails outfielder, Kevin Gibson was drawn to hockey. Gibson and brothers Cam and Kirk loved athletic competition growing up Grosse Pointe, Mich.
“During the 1990s, the [Detroit Red] Wings came to be the powerhouse [they were] and I really got into hockey,” Gibson said. “We had a backyard rink and all that. My two brothers and I were always playing something. Mini sticks in the basement, baseball, football. We're all competitive. Whoever lost, it would almost always end in some type of altercation.”
Walleye coach Dan Watson said he recruited Gibson for his athleticism and drive.
“He competes very hard,” Watson said. “He’s an agile D-man who can move pucks and can be effective in our transition game. He shares the same desire to win as the rest of the group.”
Gibson, 28, started the season playing overseas in England. He returned to the U.S. in late October, and Watson quickly signed him. Gibson had played the past two seasons with the ECHL's Quad City Mallards. He tallied 30 points with two goals and 28 assists in 64 games last season.
“We saw him several times and liked what we saw from him last season,” Watson said.
Gibson, who is 6 feet and 185 pounds, has appeared in 35 games for Toledo. He has 10 points with two goals and eight assists. Gibson scored the game-winning goal in the Walleye's 3-0 win Jan. 19 at Kansas City.
Toledo's Kevin Gibson controls the puck in front of Cincinnati's Winston Day Chief during a game between the Toledo Walleye and Cincinnati Cyclones at the Huntington Center in Toledo on Jan. 28, 2018.
He had been playing for the Milton Keynes Lightning, appearing in 10 contests with one goal and four assists.
“I wanted to test my luck over there, and I had a good situation,” Gibson said. “But I had some personal stuff going on back home. I wanted to play closer to home. It's worked out for the best.”
The Walleye (30-12-4) extended their winning streak to five by beating Wheeling. Toledo, which returns Friday for a three-game weekend homestand, leads the Central Division by two points over rival Fort Wayne.
“Luckily, we don't do too much losing here. I've been in a pretty good mood here lately,” Gibson said.
Although Gibson was just 4 when his dad retired, he still was around professional baseball.
“I got to be around the pro game when he was [coaching] with the Tigers and [Arizona] Diamondbacks,” Gibson said. “I got to see the top level and see how guys approached each day and how seriously they took it. And how great it was [to be a pro athlete].”
Nicknamed “Gibby,” Kirk Gibson remains a huge fan favorite in Detroit. He helped lead the Tigers to their last World Series title in 1984, then was named the National League's MVP when he guided the Los Angeles Dodgers to the 1988 World Series, including one of the most famous home runs in postseason history, when he hit a pinch-hit home run against Oakland closer Dennis Eckersley in Game 1.
Kirk Gibson played 17 seasons in the majors with 255 homers. He then managed the Diamondbacks for parts of five seasons, earning NL Manager of the Year in 2011.
“We'd watch highlights of my dad and see how he played,” Gibson said. “I still hear a lot of people say that he is their favorite player.”
Kirk Gibson also was a star receiver at Michigan State University. He was inducted into the college football hall of fame in December.
“I never played football,” Kevin Gibson said. “I was always smaller. One day I was watching hockey and I was begging my dad to play. From there, he learned the game more as it went along. He's knowledgeable now. He can pick things out about my game. He knows the pro life. He knows how long a season is. He gives me good advice and keeps me level-headed.”
Gibson's brother, Cam, excelled at baseball and was selected by the Tigers in the fifth round of the 2015 draft.
Toledo's Kevin Gibson takes a shot during a game between the Toledo Walleye and Wheeling Nailers at the Huntington Center in Toledo on Dec. 9, 2017.
Blade/Kurt Steiss Enlarge
“I'm the middle brother. So I can beat the older and younger brother. I'm basically the best at everything,” Gibson said, chuckling.
Like his father, Kevin Gibson batted left-handed. “In hockey, I'm all left-handed,” he said.
Gibson played three seasons of junior hockey, then spent four years at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. In 117 games for the Pointers, he scored 18 goals to go along with 65 assists for 83 points. He was named the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference player of the year as a senior in 2014-15. He was an assistant captain and posted a point per game with 32 points, including eight goals, in 31 contests.
He then turned professional in 2015-16.
“I hope to bring a complete effort every night,” Gibson said. “I want to be good in the offensive zone and defensive zone. I just want to be consistent.”
Gibsonsaid the atmosphere at the Huntington Center is second to none.
“The place is electric. There's no other way to describe it,” he said. “It gives us a huge advantage. Our home record speaks for itself. The fans contribute. They are invested in this team.”
He said the Walleye are tight-knit and well-rounded team.
“It's a really close group of guys,”Gibson said. “We stick up for each other. We hang out together away from the rink.
“We are built really well top to bottom. We play a complete game. We have the ability to matchup with any team. And we have great coaches.”
Gibson said Toledo has proven to be the perfect fit for him to exercise his competitive streak.
“The team is in a good place right now,” he said. “It's been a great experience to play here.”
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