U SPORTS sits down with one key athlete, coach, and staff member of each U SPORTS athletic program in our new interview series “Getting to know…”
Name: Brett Gibson
School: Queen’s University
Sport: Men’s hockey
Position: Head coach
Seniority: 13 Years
Previous school/position: Assistant coach, Kingston Frontenacs
Hometown: Gananoque, Ont.
1. How did you first get involved in coaching? What was your path to your position as head coach of Queen’s?
I retired from playing in 2004 as my father was diagnosed with a terminal disease and wanted to be there for my family as they are the most important thing in my life. I was very fortunate that a former coach and mentor of mine was the head coach of Kingston Frontenacs in the OHL (Jim Hulton) who asked if I wanted to get into coaching. Naïvely, I said sure and instantly fell in love with it. After the season, Kirk Muller approached me about a more significant role at Queen’s, which I accepted not knowing that he would take a position with the Montreal Canadians six months later, and at 25 years old I would be a head coach in U SPORTS.
2. Who are the people that have influenced you most as a coach?
Every coach that I ever played for or coached with has influenced me in one way or another. Obviously, Jim Hulton sticks out to me as not only did I play for Jim on two separate occasions, he also gave me my first opportunity to become a coach. To this day, he is one of the first calls I make when I need guidance. The second person that comes to mind is my former assistant coach Tony Cimellaro. He is a fantastic coach who pushed me every day for seven years but also always had my back when it came to tough decisions. The last is Kirk Muller. To be able at any time to pick up a phone and call an NHL coach for advice is genuinely unique as he is always willing to help me out.
3. How would you describe your coaching style?
It has changed a lot over the years from a “coach-centric” way of coaching to a very much “player-centric” way. The players need to be a part of the plan from day one and need to know they are valued. My most important job is to develop them both on and off the ice, which I take very seriously.
4. Which coach do you admire the most, and why?
From a pure hockey point of view, it is Mike Babcock. The job he has done with Hockey Canada is remarkable. The Sochi Olympic team to this day I feel was systematically the best hockey I have ever seen, and he orchestrated the best players in Canada to buy into it.
5. What is the most “out-of-the-box” thing you’ve done as a coach?
A lot of the time I allow random people to come in and do the starting lineup in our dressing room before games. The guys have been pretty surprised when a random person from Montreal does the starting lineup in McGill, and he then showed up without notice to Kingston to do it the very next week because we won!
6. What is your greatest coaching moment or achievement?
Taking Queen’s back to the national championship for the first time in over 30 years was an incredible accomplishment, and I will never forget that group from what they endured to get there. Also leading our Canadian men’s hockey team in Kazakhstan at the FISU Games and having my mom there at the medal ceremonies, and then placing the bronze medal around her neck. I am forever indebted to that team for giving me that moment with my mother.
7. What’s the best advice you can give to an athlete and/or athlete’s parents?
That things happen for a reason, and not everyone has the same path in life but if you work hard, value your education and be a great person, people will notice. When I was younger, I never envisioned that I would be where I am at in my life, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.
8. How have you changed as a coach over time? What principles/values, etc. have remained the same?
I have changed a great deal, and it started when I became a father for the first time. To be able to come home after games win or lose and to see your kids, there is nothing better. I genuinely want the best for my players, and I push them every day to be great people and great hockey players.
9. What do you enjoy doing when you’re not in coaching mode?
I love spending time with my family on a boat on the St. Lawrence River, that is where you will find me in the summer. Every chance I get to travel with my wife and kids I jump at it, as the season is long and you have many nights away from them, so you need to find time to spend with just them.
10. What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you as a coach?
I have fallen off the bench many times and also in practice. Once every couple years, I find my way slipping and landing on my backside, which the players never let you live down!