by Andrew Hoyle
At 5’5″ and 145 pounds, River City forward Nathan Gerbe has probably heard every short joke in the book more than once. He’s “vertically challenged.” He could “play racketball against a street curb.” The term “anklebiter” probably still gets thrown his way a lot. But what he lacks in size, he makes up for with heart, skill, and determination on the ice. He’s quickly become an integral part of the Lancer attack, a respected member of the team, and a fan favorite. There’s even a grudging amount of respect for him on opposing teams, who are quickly learning that size doesn’t always matter, and that if you forget where he’s at on the ice, he’s liable to give you a nasty surprise.
Gerbe, a native of Oxford, Michigan, comes to the Lancers via the Honeybaked Midget Major AAA Travel Hockey Club, where he played for the past two seasons. He was having a great season with Honeybaked this year (39 GP, 26 G, 23 A, 49 PTS, 93 PIM, +41) when a rash of Lancer injuries afforded him the opportunity to join River City and the USHL. Despite size concerns, Gerbe quickly fit into coach Mike Hastings’ system and isn’t awestruck by the bigger players around him. He’s quick to jump to his own defense, and that of his teammates, when he needs to, and isn’t at all bashful about checking much bigger players along the boards. Since joining the Lancers (17 GP, 1 G, 2 A, 3 PTS, 32 PIM, +4), Gerbe has shown coaches, teammates, fans, and foes that he can hang with the big dogs of the USHL.
At only 15 years of age (July 24, 1987), Gerbe is also the youngest player currently in the USHL. He can look forward to a long and successful career in the USHL, if he so chooses. He’s already got an offer to join the U.S. Under-17 team next season, and that’s something he’ll have to think about at the end of this season. Lancer fans are hoping their favorite underdog will come back next year, but for right now, Gerbe just wants to concentrate on winning. And reminding the big guys that he’s out there.
Squeaking Past the Steel: at Chicago, February 7th. River City escaped the Edge Arena with a win by the slimmest of margins, 1-0. Forward Phil Todd scored the only goal of the contest at the 18:11 mark of the first period, with an assist going to Yale Lewis. Goaltender Dominic Vicari made 25 saves en route to his fourth shutout of the season.
Black Hawk Downer: at Waterloo, February 8th. The Lancers were hoping to finally skate away with a win at Young Arena this season, but tonight wasn’t meant to be that night as the Black Hawks finished off the Lancers 6-2. Vicari was put on the shelf after the fourth Waterloo goal, making way for backup Chad Beiswenger. Neither goalie had a lot of help, as the Black Hawks were able to convert three of their seven power play opportunities into goals. Forward John Togiai went down with a broken right fibula during the game, and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. Despite outshooting the Hawks 31-29, the only Lancer goals came from Drew Miller and Nate Raduns.
Stompin’ the Stampede: at Sioux Falls, February 13th. A banged-up and injury-depleted Lancer team limped into another road game, this time against a high-powered Sioux Falls offense that was probably just drooling at the chance to catch the Lancers in a goal stampede. But River City turned the tables on the Stampede in their best offensive performance to date with a 7-0 win. Janne Jokila had a 4-point night (1 G, 3 A), and Vicari stopped all 18 shots fired at him to earn his league-leading fifth shutout. Three quick goals by Lewis, T.J. Jindra, and Miller, all less than three minute apart during the first period, started the Lancers rolling, and Ryan Coakley, Charlie Kronschnabel, and Tim Cook added goals of their own in the effort. River City put twice as many shots on goal (36-18) as did the Stampede.
It’s Raining Bears: vs. Green Bay, February 14th. It looked like Lancer fans weren’t going to be able to throw their teddy bears for hospitalized kids on the ice at all for a while when the hard-luck Gamblers came to town on Valentine’s night. After spotting Green Bay a 2-0 lead, including one goal just thirteen seconds into the game, the Lancers fought back with a power play goal by Mike Howe at the 18:10 mark of the first period. Fearing a loss of momentum, River City coach Mike Hastings had all his players quickly clean up the deluge of bears on the ice. The tying goal didn’t come until the second period, though, when Jindra got his fourth point in three games, beating Green Bay’s Peter Sevela. The Gamblers refused to go down without a fight, eventually taking the contest to overtime. Nick Schaus got the game-winner at the 2:27 mark in overtime, with an assist from Jindra, to make it a 3-2 Lancer victory. River City once again dominated the shots on goal category, 38-18.
Third Night (and Win) in a Row: vs. Chicago, February 15th. River City went into this one hoping to put the Steel away early in the game, but it took almost the entire first period for the Lancers to get on the board with a rare goal by Jason Dest at the 19:15 mark. Miller added a goal of his own in the second period, and Howe scored for the second consecutive game in the third. Vicari stopped 30 of 31 shots, surrendering only a power play goal late in the third period, en route to a 3-1 Lancer win.
Power Play Boost: at Sioux Falls, February 21st. River City was definitely going to need to focus on this one, having pounded the Stampede just eight days earlier at the Sioux Falls Arena. Focus they did, again doubling up the shots on goal (35-17) against the Stampede in a 5-1 victory. Howe recorded his first hat trick of the season on three power play goals (River City went 3 of 6 on the power play), also making it three games in a row he has scored at least one goal. Defenseman Matt Carle also came up big in this one, adding three assists. Miller and Schaus added a goal apiece, and Raduns logged two assists on the night. Vicari made 16 saves on 17 shots, once again allowing a power play goal late in the third period.
Roughing up the ‘Riders: at Cedar Rapids, February 22nd. Howe ran his consecutive-game scoring streak to four as he tallied two goals, his 16th and 17th of the season, in a 4-2 Lancer win. Beiswenger got the start in goal, a reward for exceptionally hard effort in practice of late, and made the best of his time, steering aside 19 of 21 shots. Forward Paul Stastny got two points on the night (1 G, 1 A), as did Cook (2 A). Jokila provided the Lancers with another power play goal, this one in the third period, to round out the scoring.
Fighting Back: at Topeka, February 26th. Vicari got off to a shaky start at the ExpoCenter, spotting the ScareCrows a 2-0 lead on only three shots in the first ten minutes of play. Beiswenger came in off the bench and gave another solid effort, stopping all 13 shots he faced, as the Lancers made it six straight wins in a row with a 4-2 comeback against Topeka. Carle provided the initial spark with a shorthanded goal late in the first period. Howe, named USHL Offensive Player of the Week, made it five games in a row with at least one goal, on a power play conversion early in the second period, with an assist going to Carle. Nathan Gerbe got his first goal as a Lancer with a Coakley assist late in the second, and Todd added a goal late in the third.
Lucky Seven: vs. Sioux City, February 28th. Howe made it six games in a row for scoring, and the Lancers overall made it seven wins in a row, downing the Musketeers 3-1. Howe got two points (1 G, 1 A) for the night, and team captain Jindra got three (1 G, 2 A). Dest rounded out the scoring with a goal in the third period, off a Gerbe assist. Carle had two assists for the night. River City dominated the shots on goal (48-26), keeping Sioux City goaltender Jan Chovan off balance for the whole night.
Hard Eight: vs. Des Moines, March 1st. In yet another game of musical goaltenders, both the Lancers and the Buccaneers traded out their starting goaltenders in favor of the guys riding the pine. But River City proved to have the stronger closer this night in a 6-5 win. River City had six different players score goals, including Howe, who made it seven games in a row, on yet another power play opportunity. Lancer newcomer Corey Carlson also tallied a goal. Jindra took on a strong supporting goal this night, providing three assists for the night. Miller, Todd, and Schaus had one goal apiece. River City went 3 for 7 on the power play opportunities for the night, and once again bombarded the opposing team with 48 shots on goal.
River City finally cracked the top 25 in scoring this week, with forward Mike Howe (44 GP, 23 G, 16 A, 39 PTS, 34 PIM, +12, 11 PPG, 1 SHG) coming in at #21, and defenseman Matt Carle (51 GP, 12 G, 27 A, 39 PTS, 73 PIM, +28, 5 PPG, 1 SHG) coming in at #24. Carle, who leads the league with a +/- of +28, was also honored as the Defenseman of the Week, to include 2 goals and 4 assists in his last three games.
Despite the amount of injuries this season, River City has four players who have yet to miss a game: Carle, T.J. Jindra, Nick Schaus, and Jason Dest. All four have played in all 51 games so far this season.
Goaltender Dominic Vicari, a Michigan State recruit, currently leads the league in wins with 23, GAA with 1.952, and is third in the league with a .915 SV%. He also was recently named the Goalies World goalie of the month for February.
With ten games remaining in the regular season, River City plays seven of them at home, including an important home date with Lincoln on March 12th.