EDMONTON, Alberta — Christopher Gibson is his name, which is the only conventional thing about him.
The Islanders goaltender, who was to get his second NHL start of the season against the Oilers on Thursday night, is the son of a Finnish mother and a father who is a martial arts instructor from England.
He lived in Finland until he was 15 and later landed in Saguenay, Quebec, two hours north of Quebec City, playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He had no choice but to learn French, lest he have no one to talk to off the ice.
Now he finds himself, at 25, trying to prove he belongs as a starter in the NHL.
But first, to clarify: He still considers himself Finnish, right?
“It’s complicated,” he said after practice on Wednesday in an accent that is an amalgamation of British English, Canadian French and Finnish. “Of course I do feel like I’m Finnish, but I’ve lived in Montreal for over 10 years now in the summer. That’s home for me now.”
He said he travels to Finland, where his parents still live, only occasionally, but his parents try to visit in Montreal in the offseason or wherever he is playing during the season.
Until recently, that somewhere was Bridgeport, Connecticut. The Islanders acquired him in a trade with the Maple Leafs before the 2015-16 season, and late that season, he appeared in four games for them after spending most of the season in Bridgeport.
Last season he played in only seven games for the Sound Tigers, going 6-0-0 in his starts, before suffering a season-ending knee injury. This season he was 18-11-1 with a 2.31 goals-against average before being called up to replace the injured Thomas Greiss.
Gibson got his first chance against the Penguins on Saturday at the start of this four-game trip and was impressive, making 47 saves in a 3-2 overtime loss.
Coach Doug Weight promised Gibson would get more chances down the stretch.
“He’s definitely earned it with his performance, but I look at his [recent] body of work,” Weight said before Thursday night’s game, referring to a hot stretch in Bridgeport that preceded his return to the Islanders, followed by the start against the Penguins.
“He not only looked in charge and played aggressively, he made some huge saves for us to keep us in it and gave us a chance to win,” Weight said. “He didn’t look lucky to me, watching the game. I feel really good about his start [Thursday night] and we’ll see what he has.”
Gibson could be part of the Islanders’ future at an uncertain position. His contract expires after this season, so he is looking to impress whenever he has the chance.
“Last year with my injury, it was important to come back and show that I can still play at this level, even though I pretty much missed a full season last year,” he said. “I was excited to play that [Pittsburgh] game, and I guess it did prove more to myself that I can play at this level.”
As of Wednesday, Gibson had not heard from the coaches when he would next play. He got the word Thursday. “I’ve worked hard for this, and hopefully I can stay and make it an everyday thing,” he said.
Has his eclectic personal background better prepared him for the ups and downs of a young career on ice?
“I would like to think so,” he said. “I think every experience is a good experience in life, and you have to go through things, but do things to make yourself better on the ice, too.”
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