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Gerbe’s wheels power BC’s offense

Sam Werner | Monday, April 14, 2008

DENVER – Boston College forward Nathan Gerbe danced on the ice while Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” played over the speakers after the Eagles’ 4-1 national championship victory over Notre Dame.

Gerbe had good reason to dance at the Pepsi Center on Saturday night – he had almost single-handedly powered Boston College to its third national championship.

The junior tied the record for goals in an NCAA Tournament with seven and tallied 11 total points in the Eagles’ four Tournament games. In Boston College’s two Frozen Four games against North Dakota and Notre Dame, Gerbe scored a combined five goals – two of which were game-winners – and three assists.

His five goals are the most by one player in a Frozen Four since Boston University’s Dave Silk netted the same number in 1977. The Tournament was the icing on a terrific season during which Gerbe led the nation in points (68), goals (35) and points per game (1.58).

“It’s just numbers to me,” Gerbe said of his record-breaking stats. “The biggest thing is this trophy right next to us.”

Listed as a diminutive 5-foot-5, Gerbe doesn’t physically intimidate any opponents, but anything he lacks in size he makes up for with a motor that doesn’t stop.

“Obviously I’m not big, so I’m not going to go plowing someone over,” Gerbe said. “But I still finish checks and bug people out there.”

Gerbe’s grit was on full display Saturday night against the Irish. He scored two of Boston College’s goals and set up the other two.

“I don’t know if there’s a kid in the country that works harder than him, and he was finally rewarded tonight,” Notre Dame defenseman Kyle Lawson said. “He stepped up in the big moments.”

The Irish had no answer for Gerbe. The Oxford, Mich., native never stopped skating and looking for open space to create offense. His effort paid off on the Eagles’ first goal, when he found just enough room near the left circle to fire a wrister over Irish goalie Jordan Pearce’s glove.

His second goal was a classic. After a Ben Smith shot rebounded into the crease, Gerbe crashed the net and lunged headfirst to push the puck past Pearce.

Lawson said Gerbe’s second goal “epitomizes what he is – sprawling out, diving and putting it away.”

Even when Gerbe wasn’t scoring, he was doing the dirty work to set teammates up in position to get chances. On the Eagles’ fourth goal, which all but sealed the victory, Gerbe fought to control the puck behind the net and sent a no-look, between-the-legs pass to Smith in the low slot. Smith lifted the puck over Pearce’s stick-side shoulder to extend the Eagle lead to three goals.

Although he was named the Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, Gerbe lost out on the Hobey Baker award on Friday night, given annually to college hockey’s best player. The Hobey went instead to Michigan’s Kevin Porter, which was decided before Gerbe’s five-goal Frozen Four performance.

“If they had named the Hobey Baker after this weekend they may have changed their mind,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said.

Either way, Gerbe was unaffected, mugging for the cameras next to captain Mike Brennan and the NCAA championship trophy during the post-game press conference.

“I’d way rather hold this than the Hobey,” Gerbe said, pointing to the trophy.

Both Jackson and Boston College coach Jerry York said Gerbe reminds them of another pint-sized Eagle who lost the Hobey but took home the national championship – Brian Gionta. Gionta, now playing in the National Hockey League for the New Jersey Devils, is listed as 5-foot-7 and led Boston College to the 2001 Frozen Four title.

York said Gerbe and Gionta have a good relationship and talk regularly.

“I thought after [Gerbe’s] freshman year, we had another Brian Gionta, and he’s progressed just that way,” York said. “[Gerbe]’s going to be a terrific player, hopefully for us next year.”

Gerbe was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the fifth round of the 2005 NHL entry draft, but said he hasn’t decided yet if he’ll jump to the professional ranks after this season.

“I haven’t thought about it at all,” he said. “I try not to think about the future.”

For now, Gerbe can celebrate the good times with a trip to the White House and a chance to throw the opening pitch at Fenway Park.

“It’s definitely tough to take,” Lawson said of the loss. “But it’s good to see a kid who works so hard succeed in a moment like this.”

Jackson echoed his defenseman in praising Gerbe.

“He’s a heck of a player,” Jackson said. “He’s dynamic and God bless the small guy, because he plays fearless.”