The subject was the Bill Masterton Trophy and Nathan Gerbe being the Carolina Hurricanes’ nominee for a second straight season.
Gerbe was being asked about being a 5-foot-5 player in the NHL and the every-game challenges that presents and …
“Five-four,” Gerbe said.
Told his height always has been listed as 5-5, Gerbe smiled and said, “Yeah, I know. They always give it to me.”
Now that the truth is out about Gerbe, it can be said that the 5-4 forward has played 388 games in eight NHL seasons, battling guys who usually are bigger and always taller, and with nothing given to him. He has endured some severe injuries, including back issues when he played for the Buffalo Sabres that jeopardized his career.
“Every year it seems like a different, unique challenge,” Gerbe said.
This year, it was a high ankle sprain that kept Gerbe out for 25 games. He returned in mid-January and was in and out of the lineup, but he has played the past 14 games and Sunday’s game against the New Jersey Devils was his 200th with the Hurricanes.
Every game, every shift I view as basically a tryout because I know the second I don’t play well it’s easy to shoot me down the lineup and say ‘Oh, he can’t play, he’s too small.’
Canes’ Nathan Gerbe
“Being 5-4, I know nothing’s going to be easy,” he said. “Every game, every shift I view as basically a tryout because I know the second I don’t play well it’s easy to shoot me down the lineup and say ‘Oh, he can’t play, he’s too small.’
“I view it as a challenge every day and I relish that. I know I can inspire a lot of people. Guys before me inspired me and I think that’s something I can do to inspire young kids. Even younger kids in the league or the American League, to keep pushing, keep striving.”
The Masterton Trophy is presented by the Professional Hockey Writers Association each year to the NHL player who exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. Gerbe, nominated by the Carolina PHWA chapter, also is heavily involved with Defending the Blue Line and other military-support charities.
“He’s excellent,” Canes coach Bill Peters said. “He’s got a great work ethic about him. He’s a real solid pro. He looks after himself and is a real good teammate.”
Gerbe, 28, has been more than a teammate to rookie defenseman Noah Hanifin. Gerbe and his wife, Brennan, have a baby daughter but invited Hanifin to live with them this season and be a part of the family.
Gerbe and Hanifin both starred at Boston College, Gerbe winning the NCAA championship with the Eagles in 2008. Hanifin, who was 18 when this season began, was the Canes’ first-round pick in last year’s NHL Entry Draft and left college after his freshman year to begin his professional career.
“In college I played 37 games as opposed to trying to play 82 now, which is a lot more rigorous,” Hanifin said. “Nathan has helped me a lot with that aspect of the lifestyle and what’s expected. I’ve learned a lot by living with Nathan.”
While out with the ankle injury, Gerbe said he tried to remain a positive influence for Hanifin, analyzing games and suggesting ways for Hanifin to improve his individual skills and overall game.
“I know what he’s capable of doing,” Gerbe said. “He’s got all the tools to be a tremendous D-man in this league. It’s there. It’s all about realizing ‘How do I get there?’ and mentally is the biggest part of getting there. That’s what I’ve tried to work with him most this year.”
Signed as a free agent by Carolina in July 2013, Gerbe earned a two-year, $3.5 million contract with the Canes after the 2013-14 season. A year ago, he had a career-high 235 shots on goal and finished with 10 goals and 28 points, finishing sixth on the team in scoring. This season, he has three goals and two assists in 41 games.
Gerbe is due to become an unrestricted free agent in July – another challenge.
“It’s been a rough year in terms of how I wanted it to play out,” Gerbe said. “It’s been a tough injury to overcome but as a player you do what’s best for the team. I always thought of how I can support my teammates, how I can stay positive instead of being depressed or negative or try to brings guys down with me.
“That’s not my style and not what I do. I just want to work hard and push guys.”