WORCESTER, Mass. — When you think Boston College, you think Nathan Gerbe. He entered the NCAA tournament as the nation’s leading scorer, a Hobey Baker finalist and the Eagles’ sparkplug.
Want a spin-o-rama on a penalty shot? Gerbe’s the guy. Want a shorthanded goal? Gerbe’s the guy. Want a power-play goal? Gerbe’s the guy.
Then there’s Ben Smith. The Other Guy. All he’d done this year coming into the NCAA tournament was score 21 goals and assist on 22 others. All he did on this night was bury the puck at 6:33 to give BC a 1-0 lead after a five-on-three advantage had failed to produce. Since Minnesota’s last seven games had all been 1-0, 2-1, or 3-2 affairs, getting on the board first was huge.
“You want to get that jump and they handed it to us right off the bat — power play, power play — but we didn’t score,” BC coach Jerry York said. “It was incredible to get that first goal by Ben.”
Smith has been scoring big goals and doing the little things, too, all season.
“He’s been great for us all year long,” said Joe Whitney, a linemate until late February. “You can put him in any situation. He’s an all-around player. He plays defense, offense, special teams, whatever.” Whitney laughed and added, “You could put him in the net and he’d play that too.
“Playing on his line, you see him turn it up a notch and you have to turn it up to keep up with him. You just feed off of him.”
It wasn’t that way when Smith first came to BC last year. He began where most freshmen begin, on the third and fourth lines, playing seven to 10 minutes a night. Midway through the year, he picked up time on the power play. Then down the stretch, York moved top center Brian Boyle back to defense and Smith assumed a lead role up front. Arguably, that move ignited the team’s run to the national championship game.
“He came from almost nowhere,” York said. “When we moved Boyle back, it let Ben say, ‘Hey, I’m a pretty good player here.’ I think the biggest thing was his confidence.”
Smith has more than doubled his output this year.
“Now he’s one of our top players,” York said. “He plays a significant role on the power play and five-on-five. We’re awfully glad we have him.”
When York juggled the lines late in the season, he moved Smith to the wing opposite Gerbe on the top line. With the attention the Hobey hopeful attracts, it creates opportunities for Smith — assuming, of course, he can keep up with the dynamo.
“You always have to be ready for the puck and always be ready to move it to him,” Smith said. “You have to make quick plays because he plays at a really fast pace. You have to read off him and have a quick head to play with him.”
Predictably, Gerbe has elevated Smith’s game yet again.
“That’s what great players do,” Smith said. “They make the players around them play better.”
And if Gerbe gets the attention, leaving Smith as The Other Guy?
“He deserves it,” Smith said before the question was even completed. “He works hard. He deserves every bit of attention that he gets. He’s a great player. I’m just lucky to be playing with him.”
And if the rest of the teams standing in the way of a BC national championship focus on Nathan Gerbe and it’s The Other Guy who buries a big goal or two?
Smith laughed. “That wouldn’t be too bad.”