Nov. 25, 2013
Notre Dame, Ind. - By Craig Chval ('15)
Clinging to a 1-0 lead in the second period of a hockey game against Merrimack on Nov. 15, Notre Dame prepared to take a face off in the offensive zone. David Gerths set up in the left circle, winning a clean draw to Peter Schneider, who immediately fired a shot past the Warrior goalie.
Gerths' play wound up on the stat sheet as a draw won and an assist, but his contributions rarely do. And even those stats failed to encapsulate the importance of his play. But by now, the senior center is used to it.
"My role hasn't really changed that much in four years," Gerths says.
"Go out and do the little things, bang bodies and hit people. I think that my role sometimes is just to get that little extra spark on the bench. And I take pride in doing that. "
"To me it's like scoring a goal. But that's been my job - or at least, I've looked at it as my job for a while now, and I wouldn't trade it."
Gerths' additions to the team - face offs, hits, defense, and energy - rarely catch the eye when the stats come out. Even his assist to Schneider's goal isn't differentiated from any other assist. But that's just the way Gerths plays.
"Who doesn't like getting an assist on a goal? It felt pretty good, and it was nice to see my name on the stat sheet a little bit," he says.
"But that's just one of those things that I try not to let get to my head. Because once you let some of those successes get to your head, you get off your game, and then you stop bringing what you bring to the table."
Although Gerths knows what his role is, he has also lit up the lamp from time to time. Last season, he scored six goals in a span of 11 games from Jan. 26 to March 2. Before that January game, Notre Dame had lost six of seven. During Gerths' hot streak, the Irish went 6-2-3 (and won the next four after that) en route to a CCHA championship.
Nevertheless, Gerths didn't change his mentality one iota.
"Whenever you get on a streak like that, it's always fun, but I try not to think about it too much when it comes to the next game just because I know that that's not my role," he says.
"Getting that string of goals was pretty cool, and I know that helped out the team a little bit last year.
"But it was last year, and I can't let what happened last year affect what's going on this year. It's a completely different team."
On this different team, Gerths has come into his own as a senior - one of 10 in an unusually large class. The group went to the Frozen Four as freshmen and has won a Mason Cup together.
"Everyone loves our class - well, everyone within our class loves it," Gerths laughs.
"And I think that we still have a lot to prove. We know that we're definitely a motivated class. We know what we have to do to win, and we can still have a good time."
The size of the senior class can sometimes be isolating for the group. It was not so easy for Gerths to find friendship and camaraderie outside such a unit among the rest of the team.
"Because you have so many guys around you - because you have so many guys to lean on and hang out with, you kind of miss out on making friends outside of that circle," he explains.
"Just because you're such a large group already that it's hard to bring more people into it."
Gerths says he regrets not branching outside the class early in his career. But as the 10 players blossomed into team leaders, he made a conscious effort to find close ties among other teammates.
But the development of that class poses another problem: how do 10 seniors find their leadership roles on a team? When 40 percent of the team is in their fourth year, it's a bit different from last season, for example, when there were four such players.
"Obviously there's a lot of competition for roles, but we don't look at it that way," Gerths describes.
"We take the roles that we're given, and there's not much pull and tug over it. It's not like we try to be conscientious about what each other's roles are and what each other's duties are to the team. Sometimes they may overlap, but that's just when you have to work together."
While his class - like the team - is mostly made up of guys from such states as Illinois and Michigan, Gerths is the first Iowa native to play for the Irish. Despite having five United States Hockey League teams in the state, Iowa doesn't produce a lot of college prospects.
"I guess it's kind of weird being the only person from Iowa, but not really unexpected," he says. "Hopefully that'll change as the USHL grows and they have a lot more exposure to elite hockey players in the area."
From the Des Moines area, the Ankeny product was exposed to Notre Dame through Culver Military Academy in Indiana, where he played for three years. Committing to the Irish during his junior year, Gerths played two more years in the USHL before coming to Notre Dame.
"I always kind of wondered what would have happened if I didn't make that leap to Culver - if I would have just ended up playing high school hockey in Des Moines and flaming out after that," he says.
"So I jumped into Culver, and we had some good teams there and some good players that pushed each other.
"And we were able to send a lot of kids to college from there, myself included. And I think that proximity to Notre Dame really helped me out because Culver is only 45 minutes away from there."
Now in his final year with the Irish, Gerths is likely nearing the end of his competitive hockey career. But after four years at Notre Dame, be wary of asking him what he's learned along the way.
"I don't know. Stay away from (Steven) Summerhays when he's mad," he jokes, referring to the senior goaltender who also played with Gerths in the USHL.
"Just always staying in control and knowing when to go 100 percent and knowing when to hold back a little bit. That goes for on the ice and off the ice - just kind of having that experience to make the quick decision. I would say my experience has made a difference with my instincts."
This year Gerths has made a big impact on the penalty-killing unit, which is good for 93 percent on the season going into the series at UMass-Lowell - the best mark in the country. He attributes the success to a "next-shift" mentality of putting previous plays behind them.
"You see a little more consistency with our special teams than you saw in the past," he explains.
"That has a lot to do with how we're able to let go of whatever happened and move on and take the next shift as the next opportunity to play better."
Gerths' impact on the penalty kill is perfectly indicative of his mark on this program. While playing smart and physical in his role, he produces excellence for the team. Whether it's killing a penalty or winning the face off to set up a goal, he makes the "little things" seem not so small.