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We celebrate Black History Month!

How an NHL rookie prepared for the big league, part 2

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

This fall, we went on the ice with rookie goalie Mitchell Gibson as he tried to make the roster for the Washington Capitals.

MITCHELL GIBSON: I like your shot.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: What?

GIBSON: I like your shot.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yeah?

GIBSON: It's keeping me on my toes right now.

DETROW: Gibson didn't make the team, so we're following along throughout his first professional season in the minor leagues. He's been shuttling back and forth between the Capitals' affiliates in Charleston, S.C., and Hershey, Penn., and things are going well.

GIBSON: I think my self-confidence has improved a lot, to kind of help with some of those things that don't get in my own head. I - you know, I got this. I can do this. Don't get intimidated by the moment. You know, crowds get a little bit bigger, fans get a little bit more intense, all that kind of stuff. But I'm trusting what I got going on right now.

DETROW: Gibson scored a goal, believe it or not. And remember, he's a goalie. And he's gotten the chance to suit up for a team that he rooted for in the stands as a kid. But as expected in your first year in the pros, there have been a lot of adjustments. We caught up with Gibson the other day. He was in Florida for an away game with the South Carolina Stingrays, and he said the biggest challenge has been the constant back-and-forth playing for two squads.

GIBSON: It's funny because South Carolina, it's 60, 70 degrees. We can go to the beach, go out downtown and there's a lot of good restaurants down there. And then you'll get the call up to Hershey, and the next day, I'll be in a winter jacket, long pants, and got to throw away the flip-flops.

DETROW: Is it hard to get into a groove when you're going back and forth between two teams that much?

GIBSON: It was. I had a really funny - I played Friday night in Charleston. Next morning, I get on the team bus, and we start pulling away from the rink. And five minutes into the bus ride, I get a call from one of the Caps guys saying, hey, what are you doing? I'm like, oh, we're on the team bus. We're traveling to Greenville. And he goes, stop the bus. He's like, you need to go meet Hershey in Charlotte ASAP.

DETROW: In September, at the Capitals rookie camp, Gibson had told us how important the mental aspect of goaltending is and how meditation helps him find his focus. He's kept at it.

GIBSON: With the amount of traveling and that kind of stuff, it's hard to do when you're in a hotel room. So sometimes, I might have to lock the bathroom door and be on the ground just to get, like, quiet in the room. But in order to like - it's been helping me a lot with the travel.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: And we're just over halfway through. Now Savannah looking to get it back. Here's Vinny Marlowe (ph) - a shot blocker by Gibson.

DETROW: I wanted to play you some play-by-play tape and get your reaction to a moment that happened the other week when you were in goal.

GIBSON: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Six skaters out for Savannah. Pass out. It's going to go. And it's in.

(CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: A goal from South Carolina.

DETROW: The opposing team mishandled the puck and accidentally shot it into their own net. And when that happens in hockey, the goal is credited to the player from the other team who touched it last.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: And South Carolina is not sure who touched it last before the penalty.

GIBSON: You could hear by the audio it was really confusing what happened. Nobody knew who it was.

DETROW: Gibson said he stood there in goal trying to figure out who would get the credit, and then he saw his other team's goalie wave down the ref from the bench to ask to keep the puck.

GIBSON: And I was like, oh, it might be you, idiot. And then they were taken a while to announce who it was, and I was like - and the longer they were taking, I was like, they're probably reviewing it to see if I touched it. And it was a really - it was an incredible moment. I mean, it's - to hear my name get called like that...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: ...To the goalie, No. 34.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: So they're giving it to Mitchell Gibson. They're saying that Gibson touched that puck last. That is goal No. 1 of the season for Mitchell Gibson.

DETROW: A goalie scoring a goal is a huge moment of course, but Gibson told me his first pro season is memorable for another reason too.

GIBSON: Having my first pro win be with the Hershey Bears, the team that I grew up going to their games and going to the Hershey Park every year as a kid - and to finally, like, wear that jersey and go out and play and win a game, that was a pretty special one for myself. And I did - and my dad actually drove up - surprised me - drove up to Bridgeport from Philly that day. So I had a really cool moment with him, hugging him in the lobby. Funny enough, the last game I played last season for Harvard, we lost 8 to 1 to Ohio State in that same rink in Bridgeport. So that was the last game of my college career. And then the first game of my pro career is back in that same building after letting up seven goals and getting killed, to then coming back in my first pro game with Hershey and getting a win in that same building. That was a really cool moment for me and to share that with my dad, who - we were crying in the lobby at the end of last year, and now we're hugging, you know, with a lot of happiness.

DETROW: Nice, nice. All right. Mitchell Gibson - right now a South Carolina Stingray. We are following him through the season as he's a Hershey Bear, a Stingray, maybe a Capital. We'll see. Thanks for joining us again.

GIBSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.