Gerbe small, but could be pesky in Gophers’ opener

Boston College's junior forward will certainly be an offensive threat Saturday.

Brian Deutsch

The story of David and Goliath is often overused in the sports world, but this weekend when the Minnesota men’s hockey team takes on Boston College in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, there will be a bit of a twist.

“David” is a Hobey Baker Award finalist who also happens to lead Division I hockey players with 57 points this season – Eagles junior forward Nathan Gerbe.

“(Gerbe) is as good a player as I’ve ever coached at (Boston College),” Eagles coach Jerry York told USCHO.com earlier this year. “He’s a dynamic player. He’s what college hockey is all about.”

Minnesota’s answer to Gerbe will be junior forward Blake Wheeler – a virtual Goliath when compared physically to BC’s best skater.

Gerbe is 5-feet, 5-inches tall and weighs 165 pounds – the smallest player on a team where size might be their only disadvantage this weekend in Worcester, according to Minnesota freshman goalie Alex Kangas.

“We’re on a small rink and they’re a small team,” Kangas said. “Hopefully that’s to our advantage. They won’t have as much room to skate around and use their skill.”

Senior defenseman Derek Peltier added that a key for the Gophers will be to use their superior size to limit the speed and quickness of the smaller Eagles.

Minnesota coach Don Lucia echoed his captain’s words of concern on the disparity of mass and momentum.

“They have the star power, they have the elite player,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said of Boston College and Gerbe. “This group we (at Minnesota) have is more lunch pail mentality, but sometimes in the playoffs that’s a good mentality to have.”

Wheeler, who also leads his team in points (34), goals (15) and assists (19), stands 6-feet, 4-inches, weighs 215 pounds and is the biggest player on this weekend’s rosters.

His size is one reason Wheeler was drafted so much higher than his Boston College counterpart.

The Plymouth native was drafted fifth overall by the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, while Gerbe went unsigned until the fifth round the following year when the Buffalo Sabres selected him with the 145th overall pick.

Both forwards have seen their team struggle off and on this year.

But while Wheeler’s production has dropped significantly as the season winds down, Gerbe is going as strong as ever.

“When our team was going through a little drought, I had to look at myself in the mirror and really question if I’m doing the right things; am I playing an honest game,” Gerbe said after the Eagles captured the Hockey East crown last weekend. “The coaches got me straight; it’s starting to pay off now.”

Record setting

This weekend, York will try to make history by becoming just the second collegiate coach in history to reach the 800 career wins plateau.

Currently with 799 wins, York already has the most wins of any active coach, and is second all-time to former Michigan State coach Ron Mason, who recorded 924 career wins.

Gophers coach Don Lucia is fifth among active coaches with 518 career wins.