When goalie Jim Craig backstopped Team USA to a gold medal in Lake Placid, he emerged from the 1980 Winter Olympics as a national hero.
Anaheim Ducks prospect John Gibson received no hero's welcome when he returned home to his junior team earlier this week; even though he captured both MVP and top goalie honors with the gold medal-winning American World Juniors squad.
The main difference between Craig's situation and Gibson's situation is that shortly after the U.S. won the gold medal in 1980, Craig was called up to the NHL's Atlanta Flames. Instantly, he was beloved by fans. Meanwhile, when Gibson returned home, he was reunited with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League, smack dab in the heartland of Canadian hockey country.
The Americans' 5-1 drubbing of Team Canada in the semifinals at WJC might go down as one of the U.S.'s most memorable victories en route to a championship; just like the 1980 team's semifinal win over the Soviet Union. Gibson coming back to Kitchener would be on par with Jim Craig having to live in Moscow immediately after the 1980 Olympics.
Kitchener, Ontario in 2013 is not nearly as harsh of an environment as the Soviet Union probably would have been in 1980. However, Gibson's return is made extra juicy because his once-again head coach in Kitchener, Steve Spott, just served as the head coach of the very same Canadian team Gibson had a massive role in eliminating.
"When we were in Russia, we stayed out of each other's way," Gibson told Anaheim Calling. "When I got back, he (Spott) just congratulated me and said that he was happy for me. Now that we're back here, I think it's all good again."
Gibson returns to face Canadians not just on the ice but off the ice, too. He lives with a Canadian billet family. Billets are the host families with whom most junior players live with while away from home.
"My billets are Canadian, but they cheered for the U.S. this year and when I was on the team last year," said Gibson. "They've had American players in the past, so I don't think it was too different for them."
Gibson was momentarily the most famous hockey player in the world - he even trended on Twitter - all because he displayed the stingiest World Juniors performance ever by any American goalie. The overall circumstances might be a little different for Gibson's host family this year. After all, Gibson's host family never housed the single athlete who shattered their country's attempt at a prestigious championship.
"I'm not really sure what to expect," added Gibson, regarding the receptions he'll get in Canada the rest of this season. "Whether it's positive or negative, I can't let it have too much of an effect on me."
While Gibson will almost undoubtedly get a sprinkling of boos when he returns to Kitchener's lineup later this week, he can take solace in knowing his Anaheim Ducks family remains 100% on his side.
"I didn't talk to them (the Ducks) right after winning the gold medal," said Gibson. "We only had like two hours to celebrate after the game before leaving to come home, so it was too much of a whirlwind. They keep in touch with me, though. I talk to (Ducks Director of Player Development) Todd Marchant a lot, and (Ducks goalie coach) Pete Peeters comes to Kitchener sometimes to work with me. I'll probably talk to someone in the organization after everything settles down."
Another member of the Ducks family who Gibson will soon be in touch with again is fellow Anaheim 2011 draftee Rickard Rakell. Gibson eliminated Rakell and fellow Ducks prospect William Karlsson's Swedish national team in last Saturday's gold medal game.
"I definitely didn't like playing against John," Rakell told Anaheim Calling. "Knowing that we can maybe play together in the future, it's a big relief."
I don't think Rickard will be the only one in the Ducks family who will be relieved by having Gibson on their side.