Find a quiet place to sit. Close your eyes and take a slow, deep breath. As you exhale, imagine yourself out on the ice. It’s the middle of the second period, game’s tied at 2. You’ve come back to support your defense, and you get the pass from one of your D-men as you skate down the ice, heading from your end into the neutral zone. You maneuver around the first opposing player, then second, next you hear your linemate call to you for the pass. You pass the puck, for a quick give and go, and as soon as the puck touches your stick once again, it’s on its way towards the net for a one-timer. The crowd gasps in anticipation because it’s a home game. Suddenly the red light flashes and the next thing you know, you’re smothered by your teammates and hear the Canes’ goal song. This is Nathan Gerbe’s game day meditation routine before every single game, where he ponders various positive scenarios. Though the shortest player in the NHL, at 5’5”, his spirituality towers above others. This is what makes NG so unique.
RK: How use height to advantage?
NG: I use the strength I have to be able to get lower and my quickness has been a help.
RK: I’m asking a few, specific players this next question to see if you have different learning techniques: Some players are pigeonholed into playing specific positions or only have certain roles on a team (the fast skater, or the guy who quarterbacks the play on the ice, or the player who assists in scoring, others themselves are scorers, or some are there to provide veteran presence in the locker room). You are among the players considered to be “versatile.” How have you honed ALL of these skills?
NG: I have always been versatile and that’s the way I was in Buffalo’s system. Here, I can play anywhere and in every situation [the coach] wants me to play in. Adaptability is a quality I have, and I take a lot of pride in it. I try to be as good as I can be. (Note: While Gerbe played with the Buffalo Sabres, local fans nicknamed him the "Tasmanian Devil" because while he is diminutive, he’s feisty and wasn’t afraid of anything.)
RK: Which other players do you regard as “versatile?”
NG: There are a lot, but one I watch, in particular, is Marty St. Louis. He’s a smaller guy, himself. He’s a guy who can play in any situation, as well, and he’s good at everything!
RK: It seems that players who are considered the most versatile in the league are on the best and most versatile teams in the NHL, that is, they are actually given the best chance to succeed. How does a player handle a situation where he is versatile, but his team, as a whole, perhaps is not?
NG: As a player, you need to adapt to anything and you [might find yourself] playing in any situation. I don’t control what other people do, and I don’t control how my team does. I just control what I do every day, and that’s what I focus on.
RK: Your biggest game day habit is meditation. What exactly do you do?
NG: I find quiet areas and then I try to clear my head. I create thoughts and imagery of the game, and think about things that I want to happen. I run myself through [game-like] situations, so that by game time, the actions are natural to do.
RK: Detroit has the octopus, Nashville has the catfish, and San Jose has the shark. What could fans throw on the ice at a Hurricane game?
NG: (Giggling) I’m not sure what people can throw on the ice…I don’t know! Our mascot is Stormy. (Note: Stormy happens to be a pig)… But I don’t really know what he could really contribute…
RK: I thought maybe some BBQ ribs, but down in Carolina, y’all like the pulled pork in the tangy vinegar-based sauce…either way, it would be a mess to clean up…
NG: Yeah, I guess something like that could work, but... We don’t have anything cool like the octopus.