Learning Lessons Along The Way

BC's Gerbe keeps focused on the big prize

Jan. 17, 2008

By Elliot Olshansky




Elliot is CSTV.com's hockey editor and runs his Rink Rat hockey blog on CSTV.com.
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It's gotten to be almost impossible lately in college hockey circles to think about Boston College without immediately thinking of Nathan Gerbe.


At 5-foot-6, the junior from Oxford, Mich., is, in many ways, the classic Eagles forward: small in stature, but fast, aggressive, and highly skilled. It also doesn't hurt that Gerbe has emerged as the national leader in points per game.


In 19 games this season as of this writing, Gerbe has 18 goals and 16 assists, an average of 1.79 points per game that tops the 1.68 average posted by Michigan's Kevin Porter, who has 37 points in 22 games for the No. 1 Wolverines. Gerbe has come on particularly strong in the last eight games, as he has scored at least one goal in each of those contests and has 13 goals and 12 assists in that span, helping the Eagles to go from an underachieving 3-4-5 record on the season to their current 10-5-5 mark




"He's certainly an outstanding player," said BC head coach Jerry York. "We've all seen that over the last three years. But, this particular year in the last month and a half, he has been so strong on his skates and driving to the net. He has scored an awful lot of goals in a short period of time. He's been one of those players who really makes a difference in the game."


"I think it's just been what I try to do every game," Gerbe said. "Work hard, try to get good scoring chances and help out my linemates. Right now that's Brock Bradford and Brian Gibbons, and I think those two have done a great job for me, getting me in scoring areas and finishing passes I give them, so I think it helps out a lot, and it definitely increases the confidence level."


With that kind of production, Gerbe is, naturally, starting to attract talk of the Hobey Baker Award, much as former Eagle forward Chris Collins did when Gerbe was a freshman two years ago.


"Chris handled it very well," Gerbe said. "He was always in the media, and he never let it get to him. He kept playing hard, and that's what I'm going to do. I'm worried about winning our league title right now."


Of course, the last two national scoring leaders have come up short in their quest for the Hobey, with neither Minnesota's Ryan Potulny nor Michigan's T.J. Hensick earning access to the "Hobey Hat Trick" as one of the top three finalists. In the case of Hensick, a 10-minute misconduct penalty taken in the late stages of a loss to North Dakota in the NCAA tournament contributed to his undoing.


Now, as Gerbe continues to pile up the points, he has his own nagging question, stemming largely from the suspension he drew after a 3-3 tie with Merrimack on Nov. 9. Without a key offensive weapon - not to mention an integral part of the penalty kill unit - the Eagles fell to current Hockey East leader New Hampshire, 5-2, a win that looms large with the Wildcats leading BC by three points in the standings. 


Of course, the Eagles may well have lost that game even with Gerbe in the lineup, and every season has its ups and downs, but the statement made by Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna upon suspending Gerbe has also attracted attention.


"While a suspension might not have been forthcoming on last night's actions alone, this is not the first time this season that I have been made aware of inappropriate behavior from Nathan," said Bertagna. "Given the fact that he had already been put on notice, I felt that supplemental discipline was in order in this instance."


Given the nature of the infraction - "I got suspended for a spearing penalty against Merrimack," Gerbe said - and talk of a pattern of "inappropriate behavior," it's natural to wonder how Gerbe's chances of becoming the third Eagle to hoist the Hobey could be affected. His coach, however, looks at the suspension as being a positive in the long-term for his top scorer.


"He's so competitive that he wants to win every single shift that he plays and every single battle within that shift that he plays," York said of Gerbe. "Sometimes, he has to control himself a little bit better and I think that has helped him focus. That was a really tough time for him because he had to sit out a game. But, I think he has taken it very positively and that might have been one of the key things because from that point on he has played so exceptionally well for us."


Indeed, Gerbe has the sound of a young man who learned a lesson and is focused on doing what he can to help the Eagles succeed where they have failed in heartbreaking fashion in each of his first two seasons.


"I definitely made a mistake, and I had to sit out," Gerbe said. "I learned my lesson and moved on. I'm not going to help out the team sitting in the stands. That's my main concern. I want to win this year, and I want to be on the ice to win, and if I'm sitting in the stands or sitting in the penalty box, that's not going to help."


But will that be good enough for the Hobey voters?


"You have to look at what the suspension is for," said one former media voter. "If it's an on-ice suspension, I don't think it should weigh as much as somebody getting suspended for something off the ice. I think you have a player like Gerbe, who gets suspended for an on-ice incident, I don't think that should factor in. It's part of the game, and he learned his lesson.


"I think he's kept his nose clean since then, and as long as he keeps his nose clean, I think you have to forget what happened. Now, if he gets himself in trouble again, then you have to consider that, but right now, I think he's playing so well, he's put BC back in the hunt for a Hockey East title, and I think that's got to weigh a lot over what happened early in the season. If a pattern starts up again, then you have to think about it, but right now, if I were a Hobey voter, I'd consider him."


Gerbe, for his part, certainly agrees that it's "part of the game."


"I just try to play hard every game," Gerbe said, "and this is something I've done since the beginning of the year. When you're a competitive kid, and you've got other competitive kids on the ice, stuff like that happens."


Boston University forward Jason Lawrence has seen both sides of Gerbe's competitive edge. As Gerbe's teammate in the U.S. National Team Development Program, Lawrence learned to appreciate what Gerbe brings to the ice, giving him added perspective when teammates come off the ice complaining about their archrival's top offensive weapon.


"I hear some guys [complain]," Lawrence said, "but I just say, `That's Nate. That's how he plays.' I'm used to it because he's been doing that since we've been 16.' That's Nate's game. He competes when he's on the ice, and that's how he plays the game."


That's how Gerbe is going to keep playing the game: fast, aggressive, and with a nose for the net. And of course, like any player who would be worthy of the top individual honor in the sport, he isn't worrying about individual honors.


"It's something I'm not going to let interfere in each game and let myself get caught up in," Gerbe said. "If it comes, it comes, and if not, not."