Brett Gibson claims 150 wins as head coach

Veteran bench boss talks personal growth and Queen’s career 

Brett Gibson has redeveloped the men’s hockey team into a perennial contender in the OUA and U Sports.
Brett Gibson has redeveloped the men’s hockey team into a perennial contender in the OUA and U Sports.
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When men’s hockey head coach Brett Gibson first joined the Gaels’ hockey program in 2006, he admits he was a kid. With several program records, a nationally-ranked team, and now 150 regular-season wins under his belt—he knows he’s a man. 

“I really was a kid. Now I’m a man, a father of two, and married now for 14 years. It’s crazy how quickly life goes.”

Gibson sat down with The Journal to reflect on his 150-win milestone and career with Queen’s on Friday afternoon, as Homecoming celebrations overcame campus. His team wouldn’t play for another five hours at the Memorial Centre that night, but he’d been seated at his desk focused on two different laptop screens for almost an hour. 

The Gaels were gearing up to play just their fifth game of the season, but Gibson had already begun recruiting players for next season.

“That’s the interesting part about this level,” he said. 

“You’re trying to develop your team that’s in front of you, and you’re also trying to get your ducks in a row for the following season.”

“This isn’t a six-month-a-year job.”

On Oct. 10, in a 4-0 victory over the RMC Paladins on home ice, Gibson claimed his 150th regular-season win with the Gaels without even knowing it. 

He was approached after the game by one of his players, veteran and captain Spencer Abraham, who brought him his 150-win puck and the chance to reflect on his success as Gaels head coach. 

“When you’re in the moment, you don’t even know,” Gibson said. “When I got home that night it was nice to reflect on that for sure.”

Gibson’s spent 14 years with the men’s hockey program—his first as an assistant and the following 13 as head coach. 

He got the call before the 2005-06 season from Kirk Muller, retired NHL Stanley Cup champion and Kingston local, who’d been signed on as the Gaels’ head coach for that season. Muller exited the program a year later after being named assistant coach of the Montreal Canadiens, leaving Gibson at the helm of a team who wasn’t performing at the same level as the league’s best.  

“[The program] was nowhere near where it needed to be, from an institutional standpoint and a hockey standpoint,” Gibson recalled. 

He knew he had to change the culture of hockey at Queen’s. After having played four years of university hockey at St. Mary’s University in Halifax and four OHL seasons, he’d become familiar with what the program needed to win—not just compete.

“[The culture] was a reflection of the idea that winning wasn’t important. To me, winning is everything,” he said. 

Since Gibson’s promotion, the Gaels have seen their regular-season wins climb from an 8-15-5 record in 2006-07 to breaking the program record and finishing the 2017-18 season with 19 wins. The Gaels also made their eleventh playoff appearance in 12 seasons under Gibson’s guidance. 

Gibson admitted that when he began coaching, he “pushed [his players]—probably too hard.” During his first couple years behind the bench, he wasn’t more than a couple years older than many of his players, but he pushed them to surpass the team’s previous level of competition. 

“I talk to a lot of the alumni now who have kids and I’ve been invited back to their weddings—it’s a lot of fun—but I was probably only three or four years older than those guys,” he said of his start with the Gaels.

One of the biggest developments for the men’s hockey program came in 2007, when Athletics and Recreation hired their new executive director, Leslie Dal Cin. It wasn’t long before Dal Cin began cutting varsity programs at the university that weren’t performing, which both impressed Gibson and made him nervous. 

That season, the Gaels grabbed five more regular-season wins than the previous season and Gibson took home OUA Coach of the Year honours.

The program’s success was growing, and the Gaels would continue onto their next season untouched by Athletics’ upper-level reform.

Following that 2007-08 season, Gibson’s success at Queen’s has been continuous. 

He’s earned another OUA Coach of the Year distinction and the U Sports Coach of the Year Father George Kehoe Memorial Award, both during the 2013-14 season. He’s also coached nationally several times—most recently, being named to the under-17 Canadian Team for the upcoming World under-17 Hockey Challenge. 

“When [Dal Cin] came in, I wasn’t her hire,” Gibson told The Journal. “She showed faith in a young coach [and] now we’re considered a hockey program that’s at the top of the national rankings.”

Outside of the rink, Gibson’s proud to say that his family life and personal growth have come from within the program, adding both his current assistant coaches have been on his staff since the births of his eight-year-old daughter and six-year-old son. 

“I’ve got a really supportive wife,” Gibson said. “You’ll see my little guy on the ice with us. That’s the proudest thing. When you’re the head of the program, you can do those little things for your kids.” 

The Gaels now head into another hopeful season, with Gibson’s goal of a championship looming over him and his team. He’s confident with his new roster and ready to tackle the future of the program. 

“I’ll never forget when I got this job, people told me, ‘What’re you doing? You can’t win at Queen’s,’” Gibson said. 

“I guess I’m stubborn—we put Queen’s on the map.” 

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