The conversation got sidetracked.
Kyle Gibbons and Cody Freeman were discussing their chemistry on the Canisius Golden Griffins’ top line when Gibbons diverted into self analysis on how he needs to better handle frustration.
“I’ve always looked at myself as a producer,” Gibbons said. “The teams I’ve been on, from even a young age, I’ve always been a top point scorer. It’s like ingrained in my head that that’s what I do. So when I don’t do that, it’s frustrating and when I get opportunities and they’re taken away … ” his sentence trailed off as he shook his head.
“It’s good. I’m learning to deal with it. Because if I play at the next level, it’s more than likely not going to happen. I’m not going to come in Day One and be on the first power play unit.”
Freeman interrupted to gently mock Gibbons.
“Hey coach. I’m up,” Freeman said, raising his hand. “Put me out there.”
“Yeah, right?” he said. And continued without missing a beat.
“It’s good for me to be able to play … and miss a few shifts and go out and have a good shift and be an energy player. Because you look at – I’m not drafted, and I’m not the next Wayne Gretzky.”
“Oh, no, you’re definitely not,” Freeman said, punctuating Gibbons’ self-deprecation with the proper inflection and facial expressions that comes with a little smack talk between friends.
It’s the rhythm and tone of an old friendship, one that dates back to youth hockey and one that years later has blossomed into a potent offensive force for Canisius, which tonight takes on Sacred Heart in a first-round Atlantic Hockey playoff game at Buffalo State College.
Exactly when they started playing against each other is up for debate between the two. Gibbons, a senior at Canisius, is from Westlake, Ohio, and played youth hockey in Cleveland.
Freeman, a junior, has dual citizenship with Canada and the U.S. and grew up playing hockey in Pittsburgh.
They played together on a prospects team that included players from both regions until Gibbons went to junior hockey in Nebraska and Freeman returned to Canada for his senior year of high school. They lost touch as each player focused on his own journey.
Then their paths crossed again. Gibbons was a freshman at Canisius when head coach Dave Smith asked him about Freeman. Gibbons was a bit startled at the question. He hadn’t talked to Freeman in some time.
“Coach asked me ‘Well how is he?’” Gibbons said. “And I was like, well, he was pretty good when he was younger. I’m sure if he’s worked at his game he’s probably just as good. I’m sure” he doesn’t stink “if you’re trying to recruit him.”
“That’s flattering,” Freeman replied.
The next year they became teammates, but it took a year and a half before they were paired up on the first line together. There was an instant spark. The Griffs had found something special.
Bolstered by the offense of Gibbons and Freeman, Canisius went 8-1 in March during its 2013 NCAA Tournament run. Freeman’s eight goals were tied for the most in the nation in March while Gibbons’ 18 points led the country in scoring for the month.
This season, they’ve played every game together except two – when Freeman was out with an injury in November. Gibbons didn’t have any points in those two games.
Heading into tonight’s playoff game, Gibbons leads the team with 30 points and Freeman has 19.
The offensive chemistry, which includes senior center Patrick Sullivan, is about more than just complementary skills. For all the goofing around and smack talk, the strength of the top line revolves around a relationship of trust.
“Off the ice is a lot bigger part of it than what people realize,” Gibbons said. “The three of us are like three peas in a pod off the ice. … It’s kind of like in a relationship. Over time you just build trust with the person. It’s the same thing on the ice, when they have the puck on their stick you trust they’re going to make a good play. Sometimes I don’t always make the best play.”
“No one does,” Freeman added.
“Yeah, and then it ends up in the back of your net,” Gibbons said.
There’s a bit of sour taste for Gibbons and Freeman after last weekend’s pair of losses to RIT. The duo was held off the score sheet in both games, and they saw their ice time dwindle in the regular-season finale.
Want to grab their attention? That’s the way to do it. And both are ready to make another statement this March as the Atlantic Hockey playoffs begin.
“After losing, the first thought in my head, was ‘OK, when am I going to have the next chance to get out there?’ ” Freeman said. “I’m not happy about the way things ended, and I want redemption. I want to prove that we don’t belong sitting on the bench. We belong in the same place we were last year.”
“It’s almost like you want to get it out of your head and everybody else’s head what you did wrong the night before,” Gibbons said. “You’re just even more eager to get out there. You can’t wait. Because this is what matters.”