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Gerbe lifts Eagles into Beanpot title game against Harvard

2/10/2008

BOSTON -- As soon as the puck found the back of the net, Nathan Gerbe wheeled around the right faceoff circle, picked up some speed and then dove headfirst across the Garden ice until he was mobbed by his teammates.

Moments earlier, at 7:15 of overtime in the second semifinal last Monday, not only did Gerbe give Boston College a 4-3 win over Boston University and a ticket into the 56th Beanpot Tournament championship game against Harvard, he also played David (his middle name) to the Terriers' Goliath and sent BU into the consolation game for the first time since 1994.

Because of the significance of this annual get-together, which takes place on back-to-back Mondays in early February, to the Hub's four major programs -- even if the rest of college hockey doesn't understand it -- what transpired at 11:32 p.m. ET was cause for much celebration.

It could be argued that Gerbe's 21st goal of the season (and second of the night) was the biggest of his career -- and that takes into account a couple of significant tallies in previous Frozen Fours.

That's how big it is to beat BU in the Beanpot.

Think of Gerbe's postgame celebration as one small stride for the diminutive left wing, and one giant surprise for close followers of what's been dubbed the BU Invitational.

"It was a quick shot at the net and Brian Gibbons did a great job of deflecting the puck across the hash marks to me and I just tried to shoot the puck as quick as possible and luckily it got over the glove of [Brett] Bennett," was how Gerbe nonchalantly described his fourth game-winner of the season.

Typical Gerbe.

As intense and frustrating as he can be to those who face him (and try to catch him) on the ice, he can be equally understated off of it.

The obvious comparison, because of Gerbe's 5-foot-5, 165-pound frame, is to former BC star Brian Gionta (5-7, 175). And despite the fact that Gerbe's career numbers (106 games, 58 goals, 108 points) haven't reached Gionta's level (164 games, 123 goals, 232 points), the man who coached them both continues to be impressed with the junior from Oxford, Mich.

"He's as good a player as I've had a chance to coach at BC and we've had a lot of good ones," BC coach Jerry York said. "He's so competitive and he really rises to challenges. And he's dynamic; he's what college hockey is all about. When you watch him play you're up off your seat watching him. He's a terrific skater, he's got a lot of courage and he likes to go to the net.

"I think over the last couple of years he's raised his game. And this helps because it's a big stage."

Gerbe (22 goals, 21 assists, 43 points) enters Monday's big Beanpot championship stage as the nation's leading scorer (1.65 points per game) and as someone near the top of the very early Hobey Baker Award discussions.

"He's a tough guy to handle one-on-one through center ice," BU coach Jack Parker said. "He's a tough guy to handle coming out of the corners. He's a goal scorer and he's a very competitive guy. I think he's the guy that runs that team and he's one of the great players in college hockey, that's for sure."

Parker should know. In the Terriers four games against BC this season, Gerbe scored six goals and added five assists -- and that included being held scoreless in one of those games.

Monday's opponent knows all about Gerbe, too.

In a Dec. 12 meeting at Harvard, Gerbe scored four goals and added an assist in a 7-2 BC rout.

But that was back when Harvard, which started the season 6-2-1 and was actually ranked higher than the Eagles when they met at the Bright Center, began a 1-8-2 slide that continued all the way to the Beanpot.

After a hard final practice the day before the Crimson's 3-1 win over Northeastern last Monday, Harvard coach Ted Donato showed the team a video of the history of the Beanpot to drive home to each of them -- especially the 16 players in his lineup not from Massachusetts -- how important this tournament is to everyone in and around Boston.

"Growing up in Boston the Beanpot is very important for me," said Donato, who won this tournament as a Harvard captain in 1989. "But I think the importance for me is to allow our team -- in particular our seniors -- to have a chance to play for the championship in front of a great crowd. I think they've worked very hard to put themselves in this position and we're halfway there.

"I'm not concerned about us just being comfortable about making it [to the championship]. Our guys want a chance to win; it's a tremendous venue, a great opponent and our guys want to win the Beanpot."

Harvard entered this year's Beanpot as the forgotten team in the mix. Much of the local press centered on how this could be the year for a resurgent Northeastern, which has the longest Beanpot title drought (1988) but has played well for much of this season.

No. 9 BC came in as the highest ranked team in the national polls, and, well, BU has owned the first two Mondays in February.

"It's definitely part of the motivation," Harvard captain Mike Taylor said. "They can get the press and that's fine. But we knew we had to come out and let our play do the talking for us and gain some respect because we hadn't been earning it of late with our play."

Whichever school ends up posing with the silver trophy late Monday night, it will be a new experience. Harvard (9-10-3) hasn't won the Beanpot since 1993, while Boston College's (14-6-7) last title came in 2004.

The Eagles have to be considered the prohibitive favorite by any measure, but BC isn't complacent and isn't looking past the Crimson. In fact, the Eagles don't put much stock in the game that was played nearly two months ago and actually came away impressed with the team they beat by five goals.

"They kept coming," Gerbe said. "As much as we scored they never gave up. And that's what we'll expect in the Beanpot [championship]. It's not going to be a blowout, it's going to be a close one, we all know that."

With the kind of season he's having, who's going to argue with Nathan David (Hobey?) Gerbe?

David Albright is the senior deputy editor for college sports at ESPN.com. He can be reached at david.albright@espn3.com.