From Kingston to the desert

Ryan Gibb is shining on a bigger stage in the Central Hockey League

Goaltender Ryan Gibb won the OUA East most valuable player award last season with the Gaels. He’s now playing professionally for the New Mexico Scorpions.
Goaltender Ryan Gibb won the OUA East most valuable player award last season with the Gaels. He’s now playing professionally for the New Mexico Scorpions.
Journal File Photo

Former Queen’s goalie Ryan Gibb’s transition from hockey-mad Kingston to the desert of Rio Rancho, New Mexico might sound like a downgrade in venue, but the 23-year-old netminder has been stopping pucks in front of bigger audiences than ever. He said the New Mexico Scorpions regularly draw around 3,000 for their home games in the Central Hockey League, and he’s played in front of 10,000 people on the road.

“Coming from Queen’s, where you get maybe 200 to 300 people out to a hockey game, to thousands of screaming fans, it’s been great,” he said.

Gibb said Rio Rancho and many of the other CHL cities aren’t like the hockey hotbeds he’s used to in Canada.

“A lot of people don’t really understand the game, let alone come out to watch,” he said. “A lot of the places are in small towns that don’t really see too much hockey.”

Gibb said the players act as ambassadors to the community, something he enjoys.

“We do our best to educate as many people as we can,” he said.

On the ice, though, Gibb said the CHL is everything he hoped for and more.

“It’s a better league than I anticipated,” he said. “There’s a lot of pretty good hockey players.”

With Queen’s last year, Gibb recorded a 2.86 goals-against-average and a .929 save percentage in 20 games en route to his selection as the OUA East Division’s most valuable player. He put up an 11-7-0 record. In the CHL this year, he put up a 9-3-2 mark with the Laredo Bucks with a .908 save percentage and a 2.96 goals-against-average before he was traded to New Mexico. He has only appeared in three games for the Scorpions so far, winning one and losing two.

Gibb said the professional atmosphere makes the CHL more intense than CIS hockey.

“There’s a bit of a different feeling going into games,” he said. “You’re not playing just to kill time at school.” Gibb said his time at Queen’s prepared him for a professional career, though.

“Queen’s taught me a lot about leadership,” he said. “It was tremendous having [Brett] Gibson as a coach, he played professionally, so that was great.” Gibb said he loves being able to play sports for a living.

“Growing up, all I wanted to do was play hockey,” he said. “Being able to say I’m a pro hockey player has been great.”

Gibb said a focus on fun is common among his teammates as well.

“Everyone here enjoys the game,” he said.

Gibb said the biggest change for him has been the distance to his hometown of Toronto; his previous stops with Cobourg and Georgetown of the OPJHL, Oshawa of the OHL and Queen’s had all been within Ontario.

“A five-and-a-half hour plane ride is a bit of an adjustment,” he said.

The days of Slap Shot may be past, but Gibb said the minor leagues are still tough.

“It’s that old style of hockey,” he said. “Guys square off to fight almost every night and there’s one or two tough guys on each team.”

Gibb said he enjoys the style of play, adding that he’s hoping to stay in the CHL after this season, but that isn’t a certainty.

“That’s my intention,” he said. “Contracts here tend to be only one season long, though.”

The current economic turmoil has seen several sports leagues and franchises run into financial difficulties, but Gibb said he tries not to worry about that prospect and focuses on his on-ice performance.

“I’m sure it’s a concern,” he said. “I try to keep it as far away from my mind as possible.”

Gibb left Queen’s before completing his degree in Health Studies, but said he’d like to return after his hockey career ends.

“You can never go too far with an education,” he said.

That isn’t in the near future for Gibb, though. He plans to keep playing professionally as long as he can.

“As long as my body and the paychecks hold out.”

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