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Eagle eyes: Gibbons’s vision encompassing

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / March 24, 2011

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When Boston College hockey forward Brian Gibbons watches a basketball game, he pays attention to how the point guard distributes the ball. While taking in a football game, he observes how the running back weaves through holes.

Gibbons is a bit of a sports fanatic. When BC began recruiting him, he said, one of his favorite memories was watching the men’s basketball team play Pittsburgh, when the Eagles were in the Big East.

Whatever the sport, Gibbons is looking for details that could help him feed the puck to a teammate or squeeze between defenders for a clear shot.

“I played as many sports as I could growing up,’’ said Gibbons, a Braintree native. “I have a great passion for sports and I’ve always liked competing. So I like to watch other people compete.’’

But what began as a hobby has become a tool to help Gibbons become a better player.

“I noticed certain players I tended to watch in other sports had similar tendencies to myself,’’ Gibbons said. “In basketball, I love watching Rajon Rondo play. He’s sort of a pass-first guy, and I’m the same way in hockey.

“I played baseball growing up, and that helped me with hand-eye coordination, which never hurts.

“In football, I like watching running backs. They have to see where the holes are and where the open field is. It’s like hockey because you have to read the play and be steps ahead of the defense and be ready for whatever they have.’’

Gibbons is making it all work as he enters the final stage of his senior season. Tomorrow, the Eagles will face Colorado College in the NCAA West Regional semifinals in St. Louis. It is the next step for Gibbons and his teammates in their quest to bring the program its third national title in four seasons.

As a member of BC’s top line, Gibbons has been responsible for setting up some of the leading scorers since his freshman season. He has teamed up with players such as Nathan Gerbe and Brock Bradford, and most recently, Gibbons has lined up with Cam Atkinson (team-leading 30-21—51) and Joe Whitney.

“I think I owe most of my success and scoring ability to him,’’ Atkinson said. “I just drive hard and have my stick on the ice. It doesn’t matter where I am on the ice, he just seems to find me.

“He has some of the best vision I’ve ever seen in any player. I’ve been fortunate to be part of it.’’

Gibbons describes himself as a pass-first player, and that’s not a bad thing in the eyes of coach Jerry York. While Gibbons was at Thayer Academy and later Salisbury School in Connecticut, York and his fellow coaches could see the basis of a playmaking forward. But Gibbons became so much more for the Eagles, York said.

“We could see it right in him right from day one,’’ York said. “I never knew how tough of a kid he was. He’s really not big [5 feet 8 inches, 165 pounds] but he’s durable. He takes hits and goes into traffic areas. He’s got a lot of that competitiveness to him.’’

Growing up, the only sport Gibbons wasn’t allowed to play was football; his mother thought it was a bit too dangerous. His father loved basketball, and his mother loved hockey. It wasn’t long before Gibbons decided to dedicate most of his energy to hockey.

Gibbons learned tricks from his older brother Michael, who played hockey at Skidmore College. By the time he reached BC, Gibbons displayed a quickness on the ice that made him a valuable asset.

“He can go from Point A to Point B like no one I’ve coached,’’ York said.

For all the things Gibbons did well, York wanted him to shoot the puck a little more. Gibbons has tried to comply, and this season, he has three game-winning goals, seven power-play goals, and is tied with Atkinson for second in the nation with four shorthanded goals.

Overall, Gibbons has 18 goals and 32 assists in his senior season and leads BC with a plus-29.

The numbers show that Gibbons isn’t afraid to shoot the puck, but he can fall back into old habits.

“For whatever reason, since I’ve been little, I’ve always been a pass-first guy and enjoyed setting up my teammates,’’ Gibbons said. “It’s something Coach has been great about, and he has put me on the top line with so many great players.

“I’ve benefited from being able to play with great players. I definitely know my role on the team is to get those guys the pucks in dangerous positions where they can have success.’’

As Gibbons reflected on his career, he said there are times when he can’t believe how much has happened. And he would like to end his college career with a victory.

“It’s been much more than I could have ever expected,’’ he said. “We’ve had so much success as a team over the past four years that it’s definitely exceeded any expectations I could have had.

“Now we’ve put ourselves in position to go after another national championship and this is exactly where we want to be.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

BC vs. Colorado College
What:
NCAA hockey, East Regional semifinal
When: Tomorrow, 9 p.m.
Where: St. Louis