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Principe's Blog: Gerb Your Enthusiasm

by Gene Principe / Edmonton Oilers
Martin Gerber #29 of the Edmonton Oilers warms up before a game against the Colorado Avalanche at Rexall Place on November 25, 2010 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club)
As the Edmonton Oilers take to the ice Monday night they will do so with Martin Gerber in net against the Ottawa Senators. A story about perseverance and dedication to the game after quite the experience in Russia last year while playing in the KHL. Gerber spent the season with Mytischi and finished with a 15-6-6 record and a 2.19 GAA and 2 shutouts.

However those numbers tell you nothing about his time there. Did you hear the one about the Swiss goalie in Russia? Sounds like a joke but there was nothing funny about what the netminder went through while playing in the KHL. He suffered a broken neck. An unimagineable occurence for a person or a pro athlete. It happened in a collision and it left Gerber in some serious trouble.

I've never heard of a broken neck problem not being serious and this one could have been. What made it more difficult for Gerber to truly understand is the medical care wasn't quite what an NHL player would receive. He would be immediately taken to hospital, immobilized until a battery of tests took place. That wasn't exactly what happened in this case. Instead it was a road game and medical facilities were limited and so Gerber was brought to a hospital..a military hospital.

What happened then was straight out of a movie..a bad movie because Gerber had to pay for his own testing because the team doctor didn't have the money or didn't want to pay for the care and so the netminder took care of it. They were basic tests because that's all that could be provided. In the end it cost the then 35 year old a few hundred dollars to get looked at.

This wasn't about the money but it was about being in a moment like that. It was never what Gerber could have expected to happen and it scared him. Righfully so..this isn't about disparaging the KHL or any other league but the way an athlete in the NHL gets taken care of is next to none. That was enough for him to say 'nyet' to going back for another season.

The decision was an expensive one as Gerber could have made 2 or 3 times the money he can make in the NHL with Edmonton and 5 or 6 times the amount he will make in the AHL. However peace of mind and one more chance to 'make it' was worth the pay cut. He came to camp as the fourth goalie on the depth chart and played as wéll as anyone but taking age and contract status into account it was Gerber who was off to Oklahoma City.

While there he won seven in a row and for that matter could have won ten more straight games but he had to wait for an injury. When Nikolai Khabibulin was injured up came Gerber and to get a start and then another one. That's probably two more then he thought he would get but the former Cup winner never gave up hope. He lost feeling in his hands when he broke his neck but he never lost his feeling for the game.

Martin Gerber understands that his next NHL start could be his last one. Khabibulin will soon be healthy and Devan Dubnyk isn't going anywhere which means it will be Gerber who goes...but after everything he's been through you can bet he won't be a baby about it.
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