At the very dawn of his hockey career, Nathan Gerbe, now with the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets, decided that even though he was always the shortest player on the ice, he could take on the biggest kids.
Some things never change.
The 5-foot-4 Gerbe is the shortest player in modern NHL history.
The only NHL player shorter than him was goalie Roy Worters, who retired in 1937, according to Sports Illustrated.
But Gerbe, 32, defined his combative spirit Thursday in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers.
As video of the game shows, Gerbe began the chain of events with a body check that flattened Philadelphia captain Claude Giroux.
Travis Sanheim of the Flyers, all 6-foot-3 of him, decided to even the score by going after Gerbe.
He had no sooner tried to lower the boom on Gerbe than Gerbe turned and started a scrap that ended with Gerbe on top and Sanheim flat on the ice being pummeled.
“Bigger kids would lock in on me from the get-go thinking that they were going to be able to get a big hit to impress their friends and teammates,” he wrote. “But after I took a few of those shots, I figured out how to use my speed to evade them. All that skating, though, left me too winded to be able to do anything on the puck.”
“So my dad and I devised a plan — one that stemmed from my desire to win. Instead of running away, I was — on my very first shift of the game — going to find the biggest guy on the other team and give him a run,” he added, noting that as he waited for a game to begin, he assessed his opponents.
“The guy whose helmet stuck up above the rest was going down,” he wrote. “The first time coach would call for my line I’d fly off the bench. Before I touched the puck, I would find my guy, held my stick parallel to the ground and cross-checked the crap outta him.”
“Throughout my career, I’ve had to play against some of the biggest players in the world. Going up against guys like Zdeno Chára is always a challenge. Chára is literally 17 inches taller and almost 80 pounds heavier than I am. But I love competing against him. Seriously, call me crazy, but I look forward to it every single time. Hey, if I can catch Chára looking the other way, I might be able to knock him down,” he wrote. “Because, why not? I’m a hockey player just like everyone else. And I think that I should probably act like one.”
Last month, Gerbe tangled with 6-foot-2 New Jersey Devils defenseman Damon Severson, with Gerbe fighting back after being cross-checked to the ice and also ending up the one on top when the scuffling was over.
As NHL.com reported, the fight earned Gerbe applause from his team’s fans.
“It’s special,” he said. “This is a great, blue-collar hockey town. That’s where I am, too. I just love to come to work. I love to work hard. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I wouldn’t want something easy. It’s the same way these fans want things.”
“They appreciate the work you put in. This team plays hard, it’s a high-character team, so I think it resembles the city a little bit, which is nice,” Gerbe added.
“He’s contagious,” Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said. “The way he carries himself, the way he is a pro, a guy that has played this way in all the leagues. He’s played on 100 different teams throughout his career, and he just plays with energy.”
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