Blink, and he'll disappear. Dog it for a shift,
and you'll be in the outhouse. Underestimate him, and he'll
play you for a fool.
Boston College junior forward Nathan Gerbe
attacks the game with a chip on his shoulder that is more
visible than the nation's economic downfall. And over the
last year and a half, he has emerged as the most dynamic
and exciting player to watch in Hockey East, if not the
College junior Nathan Gerbe is one of the most polarizing
figures in college hockey. Love him or hate him, he
gets people talking.
The 5-foot-5, 165-pounder is a buzz saw on
the ice, cutting up defenses, battling in the corners and
causing mayhem in the slot. It's that type of in-your-face
intensity that draws the respect of his opponents.
"He's a real energetic player,"
New Hampshire senior forward Mike Radja said. "He's
pretty fun to watch, actually. He does a lot of things you
don't really expect from him. As small as he is, he still
hits pretty hard. He's one of those players you can never
really overlook because he'll bury you."
"It's just hard if you can even catch
him," Northeastern junior forward Dennis McCauley said.
"He's just so damn fast. You've always got to be aware
when he is on the ice because if you leave him alone for
a second, he's gone. You can't single one guy out because
one guy isn't going to do it. But he is one of the players
in the league that you have to worry about when he is on
And everyone certainly does. Gerbe was held
in check earlier this month during the Beanpot championship
by Harvard, which keyed on him all night. But even with
Gerbe out of the picture, the Eagles managed to score six
goals in an overtime win.
Still, teams are forced to pick their poison,
and Gerbe is flat-out toxic when he starts to take over
a game. Even when he is having an off night, he never stops
moving, and his hustle and competitiveness can translate
into goals. Boston College trailed Boston University by
a goal entering the third period of the Beanpot semifinal
on Feb. 4, but Gerbe fought through a crowd to tie the game
before winning it in overtime by finding himself in the
right place at the right time.
"He's a good player," BU senior
forward Pete MacArthur said. "He's electrifying. He's
dangerous when he gets the puck. He's an agitator, as everyone
knows. He's a good goal scorer. He's definitely someone
you love to have on your team and you hate to play against."
But Gerbe's teammates share a similarity with
their opponents because they know they can't afford to fall
asleep during a shift, either.
Sophomore forward Ben Smith has been the chief
beneficiary of playing with Gerbe. When Brian Boyle switched
to defense last postseason, Smith jumped to Gerbe's line
and recorded four goals and six assists through the Hockey
East and NCAA tournaments, more than doubling his production
from the regular season.
While primarily playing alongside Gerbe this
year, Smith is second on the Eagles with 17 goals and third
with 35 points.
"Nathan definitely has helped that a
lot, especially this year and the end of last year,"
Smith said. "He's just so dynamic out there. He's helped
me and is feeding me a lot of open nets, especially on two-on-ones.
He's definitely been a big part of my play production.
"He is probably the most exciting guy
to watch in college hockey. Playing with him, you just never
know what to expect really. He's buzzing around, doing his
thing, flying around and you always have to be ready for
a pass, and you always have to be ready for a rebound because
he's always ready to dish it. He's always moving. He's so
quick. He's so fast, has such good hands and you never know
what is going to happen. That's why he's so valuable."
But what makes Gerbe tick? How can someone
bring it like he does on a nightly basis?
He credits his familial upbringing. Gerbe
is the youngest of six children, who all grew up in Michigan
playing sports. But whether he was on the ice or going head
to head with his sisters playing backyard volleyball, Gerbe
always wanted to win. Now, he's the fiercest competitor
in the game.
"You just have to have the mental attitude
like you don't want to lose any battle," said Gerbe,
who has a league-high 22 goals and 44 points this season.
"You don't care how big the opponent is. A lot of times,
size doesn't matter. It's a battle of will — if you
want that puck, or you're going to let him take it. I definitely
have to be physical out there, especially at my size. It's
something I put in my head every game and try to prepare
Opponents say that
Gerbe plays with an edge, but they respect him for playing
Gerbe's intensity, however, comes with a price.
It's the trademark of his game, and without that fire, he
wouldn't be on the short list of candidates for this year's
Hobey Baker Award.
But with that spotlight comes the closer scrutiny.
The line between trying to get an edge and playing dirty
becomes even finer, and the voices grow louder.
"He can get dirty at sometimes,"
said Providence junior defenseman Matt Taormina, who also
grew up in Michigan and played against Gerbe before college.
"He likes to over exaggerate on penalties or some things.
In that game [when the Friars played at BC on Feb. 1], he
was coming to the net, and I just kind of pushed him. He
grabbed onto my arm and tried falling back. I think he's
got a little bit of a temper to him, but that's his style
and it's working well for him. I think sometimes if you
can rattle his cage a little bit, he'll get off his game.
That's what we'll try to do to players. Him, it's not as
easy, but you have to do something to contain him."
MacArthur comes to Gerbe's defense.
"He's a smaller guy," MacArthur
said. "He plays with intensity. You can't fault him
for that. Some people say he's dirty. Everyone's dirty.
Sometimes, he just seems to get caught. He's a good player."
"The thing is there is a spotlight on
him because he's such a high-caliber player," Smith
echoed. "Everyone's dirty. Everyone is competitive.
Everyone wants to get the edge, but there is a spotlight
on him and that's why you see him getting caught."
Gerbe, though, did get caught earlier this
season. Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna suspended
him for a butt-ended incident that occurred against Merrimack
on Nov. 9. He was forced to sit out one game, a 5-2 loss
at UNH on Nov. 10.
Such incidents hardly fail to catch the attention
of Hobey voters. And one person on the selection committee
feels there could be a similarity between Gerbe's situation
and ex-Michigan forward T.J. Hensick's from a year ago based
on part of the criteria that states "candidates must
exhibit strength of character both on and off the ice"
and "contribute to the integrity of the team."
"Based on last season, there's reason
to believe that on-ice conduct and behavior is strongly
considered by Hobey Baker voters when it comes to judging
viable Hobey candidates," said the Hobey Baker voter.
"Air Force forward Eric Ehn was among the Hobey Hat
Trick finalists, while the nation's leading scorer, T.J.
Hensick, was not. I think that says it all."
While Hensick only took 15 penalties last
year, about half of them were on matching minors and unsportsmanlike
conduct infractions, and he earned a reputation among CCHA
officials for having a lot to say about their performance.
At the time of Gerbe's suspension, Bertagna's
only comment came in a league-issued statement, which cited
that Gerbe "had already been put on notice" by
Hockey East for a past violation.
Earlier this week, however, Bertagna made
it very clear that Gerbe should not be labeled as a dirty
player or have his past transgressions held against him
in the postseason award voting.
"I think that would be a shame,"
Bertagna said. "Believe me, I believe whether it's
players or coaches I've always been a stickler for people
doing what's expected of them. I think it would be a shame
if someone took it that far [to punish Gerbe in the Hobey
Baker voting]. I really don't believe there's a body of
evidence to make that a factor in the voting, just a couple
incidents that happened. It seems like a long time ago to
me, and he paid the price for it. To me, he's been a great
player since, and I haven't had an incident, or anything
anybody has asked me to look at or anything."
Gerbe acknowledges the knock on his game,
and he admits it's something he is trying to improve upon.
"Everyone is trying to compete hard,"
he said. "Sometimes I get caught up in the aftermath,
but sometimes I try to stay out of it. I thought I've done
a lot better than I have before. Every player out there
just wants to compete hard, win battles, and sometimes things
get in the way."
But that's who Gerbe is. He couldn't be successful
if he worried about getting dirty, whether it's during or
after the play. Instead of playing scared, he is the one
who puts fear into his opponents. They know if they don't
keep their heads up with Gerbe on the ice, they'll be staring
up at the arena lights.
And Gerbe seems to take as much satisfaction
out of scoring a goal as he does bulldozing a player twice
his size in the corners. While he has registered 91 points
in his last 70 games, Gerbe has earned the same reputation
for his prolific scoring as his Rocky-like attitude.
No one yet knows how that will translate in
his Hobey candidacy, but Gerbe is sure of one thing. He's
not going to change a bit.
"It's tough to say," Gerbe said.
"It might affect the voting. It might not. If it does,
I'm not going to be upset about it because I'm still going
to play my game. I'm not going to change. I have to be a
competitive kid. I'm 5-5, so that's one advantage I can't
let other people have is being more competitive than me.
That's one thing I'll never let go."
Great Weekend Getaway
UNH at BC (Fri.)
We could send you to Durham on Saturday night, but
you were already there last weekend for the UNH-Providence
game. Plus, there's more to do in Boston. Anyway,
the Wildcats need three points this weekend to clinch
the top seed in the Hockey East playoffs. They would
be the outright winners of the regular-season crown
with a sweep of the Eagles. Boston College, on the
other hand, has four teams within three points of
it in the league standings.
While You’re There: Go to
the Museum of Science, the New England Aquarium, ride
the T, tour Fenway, have some chowder, scream a profanity-laced
tirade about New York, check out Saturday's Northeastern-BU
game at Agganis or find a bar (because that's so tough
to do in Boston).
sophomore forward Kyle Kraemer scored his first goal
of the season on Feb. 15, his 23rd birthday.
It was bad
enough when the Black Bears lost a slue of players
to graduation and one Teddy Purcell to the pro ranks,
but to add injury to insult, Maine's players have
missed 74 games due to injury this season.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• The NHL is setting up a committee
that will look into the signings of college players, the
timing of the signings and other things that fit under that
umbrella, according to Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna,
who was at the NHL's General Managers' meetings in Florida
on Tuesday morning. "It's not a simple, black and white
sort of issue," Bertagna said of college players' early
departures and how they relate to the NHL clubs.
• Boston College, Northeastern and Providence
all joined New Hampshire by clinching a spot in the Hockey
East playoffs last weekend. Boston University and Vermont
will each join the party with a point of their own this
weekend, and UMass Lowell can secure a berth by sweeping
• Boston University goalie Brett Bennett
has a 0.99 goals-against average and .951 save percentage
in his last four games.
• BU is the only sub-.500 team in the
nation with a positive scoring margin.
• Maine goalie Ben Bishop is second
in program history with 2,235 career saves. He needs 229
to pass all-time school leader Scott King (1986-90).
• UMass beat Northeastern, 3-1, on Saturday.
The Minutemen have not lost to the Huskies at the Mullins
Center since Jan. 15, 2000.
• UMass Lowell defensemen combined for
seven points (one goal, six assists) last weekend.
• Merrimack has not scored a five-on-five
goal in three games.
• Providence outshot New Hampshire,
53-29, at Schneider Arena last Saturday, but Kevin Regan
made a career-high 52 saves to preserve the 1-1 tie.
• UNH needs one win to earn its 12th
straight 20-win season.
• Northeastern defenseman Louis Liotti
missed his first career game last Monday in the Beanpot
consolation contest, snapping his streak of 95 consecutive
• Providence goalie Tyler Sims played
in his 109th career game last Saturday, tying him with Dan
Dennis (1993-97) for the program's all-time mark for netminders.
• Vermont goalie Joe Fallon is 5-1-1
with a 1.81 goals-against average in his last seven starts,
allowing just five even-strength goals in that span.
• The Catamounts are 35-7-11 in their
last 53 games when scoring first.
A variety of sources were utilized in
the compilation of this report. Jeff Howe can be reached