On the ice or off of it, hockey is and will always be a family affair. Many players get into the game not of their own accord, but because they choose to follow in the skate strides of a family member that taught them to love the game. Carolina Hurricanes’ forward Nathan Gerbe is a product of that mold.
“My father and my two older brothers played, so I kind of just grew up with it. I started skating very early, and playing with them got me into it.”
The ability to perfect his skills early on was born on the banks in his back yard. Similar to many of his NHL colleagues, being a Michigan native allowed for winters filled with hockey in it’s purest form, on the pond.
“A lot of the memories that molded my love for the game were of watching my older brothers. Also, playing pond hockey in the back yard. Memories like those are the ones I tend to look back on.”
Once a fan, always a fan. No player can fully submerge themselves into the game without finding a hero who has found success lacing up his skates in the big show. For Gerbe, following the ebbs and flows of a Red Wing was a starting point.
“I really loved Steve Yzerman, he played in Detroit. Growing up he was someone that I idolized.”
But finding success on the ice is often thanks largely in part to the support system a player experiences off of it. The ability to play the game comes at a price, not simply through a financial amount, but the time and passion a player’s family devotes to the game as well. That love across all platforms can often be the inspirational spark needed to chase a professional dream.
“Off the ice, easily my whole family. They have had nothing but continued support for me throughout my career, and supporting my desire to chase my dream. They’ve always been there for me.”
If you have a dream, chase it.
“Just never give up. I think the only time that people don’t accomplish their dreams is when they quit. Failure and not being scared of it helped me to achieve that.”
The fear of failure absent, and a continued work ethic gave a possibility to pursue a career in hockey. He was drafted 142nd overall by Buffalo Sabres in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. But heading directly to the pros took a backseat as the opportunity to develop within the collegiate hockey powerhouse of Boston College took center ice.
“It’s been unbelievable, I’m so fortunate to have gone there and be a part of the winning culture there, and to have played under Gary York, learning so much from him that I have been able to carry with me to the next level.”
While making it in the NHL is the ultimate dream for any young player, the dream doesn’t always come to fruition. Simply put, at some point, a player will either make it or they won’t. But long before that point comes, it’s the glimmer of hope that presents itself and helps push a player to shine.
“It’s something I’d always thought about. Realistically, it was in college that I learned I’d have a really good chance if I continued to work hard and develop. That’s what I tried to do.”
It was on the collegiate ice that Gerbe found his spark, helping lead the Boston College Eagles to the Frozen Four championship title in 2008 and earning the title for most outstanding player in the tournament. The 2007-08 season also saw Gerbe in a finalist position for the prestigious Hobey Baker Award.
2008 proved to be a big season for the now 26-year-old, signing his first pro-contract in May, scoring his first NHL goal in a preseason game in September and saw his first NHL regular season game in December. The fondest memory of his professional career to date is similar to many players.
“My first NHL goal.”
A staple in the Sabres lineup, and a fan favorite, despite a small stature at just 5’5, his presence was anything but for the organization. But following the NHL lockout, Buffalo placed the forward on waivers. The Sabres loss became the Carolina Hurricanes gain. Gerbe agreed to a one-year, two-way contract with the Hurricanes and welcomed the change of organizations.
“It’s been great, the Carolina organization has been nothing but fantastic to me and very supportive. For me it’s been to come in and learn the system and do my best to positively fit in and be a team player.”
Gerbe has fit in, recording 13 goals and 15 assists so far this season and garnering support from a steady legion of fans in North Carolina.
“The fan base is great, and extremely friendly, they’re just out there supporting us all the time. I think that has been the greatest thing and that’s all you can ask for.”
Often said, hockey players are some of the best athletes in sports when it comes to incorporating themselves within the community. Giving back is something they strive to do both in season and off-season. Gerbe is no exception to the trend, participating in charitable endeavors and joining the roster of fellow NHL players and off-season training partners, such as Kings Jonathan Quick, Canadiens Max Pacioretty and Leafs James van Riemsdyk for the Big Assist Charity game played in Connecticut every summer.
“I got involved by working out this past summer in Connecticut, it’s a small group out there of hockey players. We’re all connected and I got invited to come. I rarely ever turn down an opportunity to give back to the community, I think that’s what I’m all about. I’ve been lucky enough to get so much out of life, that I like to give back. Hopefully I can play in others. I would assume so, I’ll be training there again this coming summer, so I would love to participate again.”
With the off-season still quite far away, it’s the here and now that Gerbe has focus on.
“People can expect the continued work ethic, the ethic is always going to be there game in and game out, sometimes you go through tough stretches, sometimes you go through good spells, for me my ethic and aspirations to work hard never change.”
It’s the focus and mentality to continue to work hard and play harder that has made Nathan Gerbe a hurricane of talent on the ice. For fans of the team and Gerbe himself, the hope is that this storm doesn’t die down anytime soon.