Diminutive Gerbe plays big for Sabres

The good news for Nathan Gerbe is if and when he ever reaches

his short-joke saturation point, he’s got a really big weapon

to crack the comedian with.

“My stick is taller than me, it’s a pretty long

stick,” Gerbe said.

The maximum shaft length allowed by the NHL is 63 inches, which

is just two inches shorter than the 5-foot-5 Nathan Gerbe,

according to NHL.com. But tack on a little extra length for the

blade and suddenly you’ve got a Sabre outsized by his own


Small guys tend to be in the league because they have great

hands and conventional hockey wisdom states it’s easier to

handle the puck with a shorter stick. By that logic, dimensions and

the desire to accentuate their vital skill would lead one to

believe undersized players should gravitate toward contracted

composites, but that’s often not the case.

“I think most small guys (use long sticks), I’m

starting to see,” Gerbe said. “It’s more for

reach and I’ve learned to stickhandle in tight with it and


The result of those shots has been steadily improving over the

second half of the season. Buffalo’s rise after a slow start

has coincided with better play from sophomore defenseman Tyler

Myers, team backbone Ryan Miller and another diminutive player,

rookie left winger Tyler Ennis. But Gerbe is certainly doing his

part, too. The 23-year-old, playing in his first full NHL campaign,

took 21 games to bag his first goal this season and had just that

one through 25. In his past 33 contests, Gerbe has 13 goals,

including six over his past eight outings.

“He’s really stepped his game up in the second half

and I feel like he’s in the good spots and it looks like

he’s got a bit of a magnet on his stick right now,”

said Sabres top-line right winger Jason Pominville. “The

pucks are finding him and he’s putting them away.”

It definitely hasn’t been smooth sailing all season for

Gerbe, who missed games with a jaw injury and was a healthy scratch

at times, including as recently as March 1. But just as the Sabres

have been a much stronger team since the calendar turned to 2011,

Gerbe is providing hard evidence that after being selected 142nd

overall in 2005 – and no doubt dismissed because of his size

countless times since – he has something to offer at the highest


“It’s just confidence,” Gerbe said of the

turnaround. “You get a few bounces here and there, it’s

not that I played bad in the first half, I thought I played hard

and had my chances and just didn’t bear down. Now a few are

going in and it’s a different year.”

The default notion that Gerbe is at an inherent disadvantage

because of his size might be a little too easy to reach for.

It’s one thing to be a middleweight in a heavyweight world,

but being a flyweight gives you a different look altogether.

“He uses his small stature pretty well,” Pominville

said. “He gets under players and he’s a tough guy to

contain because he’s not in that 5-foot-11 range, so

it’s something different you don’t see too


Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News

magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a

regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears


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