Gerber brings new style from Russia to Edmonton
Martin Gerber is back in the National Hockey League – for now – but something changed in his yearlong exile to Russia, and it’s not just his goalie mask.
Gone is the unpainted black lid that earned the nickname Darth Gerber during parts of three seasons in Ottawa. In its place as Gerber rejoins the Edmonton Oilers in place of an injured Nikolai Khabibulin (groin) is an equally plain white mask – maybe it’s Luke Gerber now?
Either way, the transformation from evil to good doesn’t stop there.
Gerber has also returned from a season with Mytishchi Atlant in the Kontinental Hockey League with a decidedly more patient style. The former long-time Francois Allaire student – first at annual camps in his native Switzerland and then in two seasons in the Anaheim Ducks organization – is spending a lot more time moving on his skates than at any other point in his six NHL seasons.
The 36-year-old cites the Russian style of play for his new style in goal.
“They try to beat you with skill and passing there,” Gerber told InGoalafter his only preseason start for Edmonton. “It’s more a lot of east-west, a lot of deking. And they don’t really look for the shot in the first place, so it’s kind of tough at the beginning to not commit too much to the shooter. And you also have to keep the other players in view and that was a tough thing at the beginning.”
The adjustment left Gerber with a taller, narrower stance, allowing for powerful leg extensions as he used more t-pushes and fewer butterfly slides to move around the crease, whether preparing a shot or in lateral recovery after one. And while the game is clearly different back in shoot-first North America, Gerber believes the change will pay off, especially if it means a 5-foot-11 goalie spends less time on his knees prematurely, offering up the top corners.
“For my game it kind of helped because you are used to it going east-west all the time so you are a little bit more patient now than maybe before,” he said of adjusting back to the NHL. “Coming over here it’s tough again because everybody wants to shoot. So it’s a different way of playing. You just have to be more patient there and here you have to be more aggressive because they can shoot here and pick the corners. So you have to find a middle way between.”
Gerber has been a backup at three Stanley Cup Finals and contributed a win to the Carolina Hurricanes championship run despite losing the starting job to Cam Ward after getting sick early in that playoff.
Gerber looked good stopping all 14 shots in half a game against the Canucks in preseason. But with Khabibulin returning after back surgery abbreviated his last season, and youngsters Devan Dubnyk and Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers both on one-way NHL contracts, Gerber knew his two-way deal meant starting in the American Hockey League, where he was 9-4-2-0 for the Oklahoma City Barons with a .911 save percentage and 2.56 goals-against average before being called up on Thursday.
After almost having his career cut short by a neck injury from a scary crease collision in Russia – initially diagnosed as a broken neck, it turned out to be a contusion and after missing the Olympics he was back in the Swiss net at the World Championships – Gerber is just happy to be back on this side of the pond.
“We said if we get a chance to come back here I would do it,” said Gerber, who gets $200,000 in the AHL compared to $500,000 with the Oilers. “If it’s two-way, there’s not much you can do, that’s the way the market is. But the main goal was to try to come back here and see what happens.”
~ Look for more from Gerber on his experiences in Russia, including the injury scare and working with an “old-school Soviet Union goalie coach” soon at InGoalMag.com …