Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Edmonton Oiler goaltender Martin Gerber makes a save during first period NHL hockey action against the Ottawa Senators in Ottawa on Monday November 29, 2010. (Pawel Dwulit)
Edmonton Oiler goaltender Martin Gerber makes a save during first period NHL hockey action against the Ottawa Senators in Ottawa on Monday November 29, 2010. (Pawel Dwulit)

ROY MACGREGOR

For Edmonton's Martin Gerber, success never lasts long Add to ...

They are the story with electricity, the ones with all the youth and future and constant attention.

But in a dressing room corner away from Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi - The Rookies who are the story of the Edmonton Oilers - sits a balding 36-year-old man, sweating and smiling sadly as he contemplates his own remarkable tale.

"You kind of take things for granted," Martin Gerber says, not even glancing the way of the three youngsters and their millions, glories and endorsements to come.

"You have a good life and things seem to be easy - and then, all of a sudden, you have to start at the bottom."

He knows only too well. There was a time when Martin Gerber was the goaltender of the moment - the Swiss miracle worker back in 2006 who stopped 49 shots to shut out Team Canada 2-0 in the Turin Olympics.

He once had it all, and more. In a five year span, he reached the Stanley Cup finals a remarkable three times, winning his ring with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006.

That same year he signed a three-year, $11.1-million (U.S.) deal with the Ottawa Senators, again reaching the final the very next season.

But these facts do not tell all the story; not even close. In both instances he began as the team's No. 1 goalie but by the time the Cup was decided he was sitting on the bench, watching someone else in the net he no longer owned.

He has been at the top. He was there in Turin - that win over Canada is considered Switzerland's greatest hockey moment - and he was there again, briefly, in Ottawa with the Senators. He was brilliant as he helped Ottawa run off a league-record 15-2 start in the fall of 2007.

By spring, however, such a suggestion only elicited laughter.

The scouting word on Gerber began to resemble more a psychological report. It was almost as if he could not bear success. As the No. 2 goaltender, he could come in and steal the No. 1 job away; as No. 1, he could not hold on, treating the designation nervously as stolen property.

"It seemed like I had a hard time just sort of blocking things out," he says of his time in Ottawa. "Some things get to me a little too much. Sometimes when you get in there, it's tough to find a way out."

He lost his job in Ottawa and was sent down to the minors, only to be claimed off waivers by the Toronto Maple Leafs. But it didn't work out there, either.

A year ago, he left the NHL to sign with Atlant Moscow of the Continental Hockey League, and it seemed things were again going well when he was severely injured in a crease crash.

"It took out my right arm," he says of the collision. "It was like some parts were not there." It seemed his peripatetic career was over.

"You realize where you are and no one understands you," says Gerber, who speaks several languages, but not Russian. "It was scary."

At first they said it was nothing but a bruise, but later tests found two bones broken in his vertebrae. "I had so many different reports I had to go on the Internet to find out what I exactly had," he says.

He returned to Switzerland and the arm gradually came back.

Most would pack it in at that age, but he talked his family into coming along while he took one last shot at North America. The Oilers signed him to a cheap contract - $200,000 to play for the minor-league affiliate in Oklahoma City, $500,000 if they called him up.

"It was a long shot," he says.

But after so much bad luck, it all turned for him two weeks ago when Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin was hurt. Gerber had been playing wonderfully in the minors. A week later he returned to the NHL, winning 3-2 over the Colorado Avalanche and then, Monday, he was exceptional in helping the Oilers to a 4-1 victory over Ottawa.

In a nice touch, the aging goaltender helped set up the winning goal against Colorado by the future of the franchise, 19-year-old Hall.

An assist, but perhaps the less important one he can pass along.

"It was nothing I wished for," Gerber says of his misfortune in Russia. "But it was kind of a good experience. You really start to appreciate the little things again. You only can play so long, you know."

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

 

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories