Gabe Guertler is the first Floridian hockey player to commit to the University of Minnesota. Born and raised in Plantation, he grew up in South Florida near the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, home of the Florida Panthers, but says he spent most of his time underneath the sun.
“I enjoy the beach, the outdoors,” he says. “Being from Florida, I like being in the water a lot.”
Fortunately, the move will bring him to an area that is not lacking bodies of water. The "Land of 10,000 Lakes" had a broader appeal to Guertler, who chose the U of M over North Dakota and Denver.
“I liked the coaches a lot and I like the area,” he says. “I like a big school like that and there’s a lot to do out there.”
Hunting, fishing and water sports are all common in Minnesota. But it was perhaps his father’s connection to the Gopher State that encouraged him to don the Maroon and Gold.
“My dad’s actually from Minnesota and grew up playing high school hockey,” he says. “He moved down here when he was in his mid-20s and got me into hockey.
“He was my coach growing up and he’s always helped me learn how to play the game right and just supported me in everything I’ve done.”
Guertler grew up going to Panthers' games and skating at indoor rinks in South Florida. He played for the Lions, Golden Wolves and Florida Jr. Panthers before leaving to play for Team Illinois after his freshman year of high school. He spent his sophomore season in Chicago and will play his junior and senior seasons in North Dakota with the USHL’s Fargo Force.
“He’s very prepared,” says Fargo head coach John Marks of Guertler’s development. “He works hard, he’s strong on the puck—he does a lot of good things. You can’t judge a man by his height.”
Guertler is 5’9”, 170 pounds and says he models his game off of Zach Parise, a 5’11, 185 -pound Minnesota native that recently signed a blockbuster deal with the Wild.
“I think I play similar to him,” he says, “close to the same height, I guess.”
His productivity has increased greatly this season. Last year he had 9 goals and 19 assists in 57 games for Fargo. This season he has 27 goals and 16 assists in 49 games. Both Guertler and his coach credit his work ethic for the improvement in his game.
“He comes to play every night,” says Marks with enthusiasm. “I got no complaints with him whatsoever.”
Back in August of 2011, USA Hockey Magazine did a feature on Guertler, calling him a hockey player’s hockey player. By that, author Carl Chimenti meant that the forward was a rink rat, a guy that gives it his all in practice and on the ice.
“He loves playing the game,” Marks continues, his face brightening with every repeated sentence. “That’s what’s fun. He’s the kind of guy that, as a coach, you love to hate. You love it when he’s on your team and hate it when he’s on the opposing team.
“He’s certainly one of our go-to guys.”
Guertler realizes that he cannot rest on his laurels and has to continue to work hard in order to be an impact player at the next level.
“My strength is my work ethic,” he says. “I could always work on my speed. I could always get faster and stronger and have a better shot. I could always work on these things.”
He may be from Florida, but a person with a relentless work ethic and passion for outdoor activity will, without a doubt, dovetail with Minnesotan culture.
Follow Tom Schreier on Twitter @tschreier3