PENGUINS PROSPECT GERGEN CAPS SEASON WITH BULLDOGS
Michael Gergen wants to be more than just an answer to a trivia question.
He was the next player the Penguins picked in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft after first-overall selection Sidney Crosby.
However, Gergen wants to leave his mark on the ice, not just on paper.
The second-round pick (61st overall) is off to a good start. He enjoyed a successful freshman season at the University of Minnesota Duluth. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound left winger led the Bulldogs with 14 goals and finished fifth in points (22).
“It started off pretty well. I am kind of in a drought right now,” he said. “Up until Christmas I was playing pretty well and was satisfied with how I was playing.”
Gergen’s 61 penalty minutes ranked third on the team.
“I like to play a fast and skilled game, but I like to play with a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “If there’s a check to finish, I am going to finish it.”
Overall, Gergen’s transition to college hockey has been a smooth one.
“I think the first few games, I had to feel it out,” he said. “My skating and skill level are good enough to play college hockey, just my composure with the puck and patience had to improve.”
Gergen is used to playing hockey at a high level. He attended national hockey power Shattuck-St. Mary’s School his junior and senior years of high school.
“Winning becomes a habit there,” he said. “It’s driven into you game after game. There are between 10-20 scouts at every game. My junior year, we didn’t have the greatest year. It was nice to win a national championship last year.”
As a senior, Gergen racked up 106 points in 66 games for Shattuck-St. Mary’s, which finished with a 59-8-2 record and won a USA Hockey Under-18 national championship. Gergen led the Sabres with 56 goals and 104 penalty minutes and was second in assists (50) and points.
“I think the biggest thing was practice – our games seemed easy compared to our practices,” he said. “We had the best 20 [high school hockey] players in the U.S on that team. It was a battle every day in practice. It was almost a relief to play in games, sometimes.”
Penguins winger and Pittsburgh native Ryan Malone attended Shattuck-St. Mary’s for a year (1997-98). Crosby spent a year, there, too in 2002-03. Gergen arrived one year later in 2003-04.
“I never played with [Crosby],” he said. “I went on my visit down there during his only year there and met him.”
Gergen and Crosby met again last June at the NHL scouting combine.
“At the combine, he roomed with Jack Johnson and I roomed with Taylor Chorney,” Gergen said. “We met up and [Crosby] told some stories about Shattuck. It was a pretty good experience. I don’t know him really well, but it was a good experience.”
Gergen is familiar with the two players who may be selected first overall in this year’s NHL Entry Draft – Phil Kessel and Erik Johnson. Gergen played against Kessel, a University of Minnesota freshman forward, twice this year and is good friends with Johnson, who is playing defense for the U.S. National Under-18 team.
“I think Erik is going to be a No. 1 defenseman on the [U.S.] national team for many years,” he said. “I am actually pretty good friends with him. I played against him high school a couple of times. He is a pretty good player.
“I think Kessel is a good player. He’s really explosive and dynamic,” he continued. “He can rush the puck. He can go end to end and do whatever he wants. That’s his bread and butter – going up and down the rink.”
Regardless of which player Pittsburgh drafts, Gergen is just happy to be part of the Penguins organization, which is loaded with talented, young players.
“A lot of the younger guys are getting chances,” he said. “It’s definitely a good feeling.”
But for now, Gergen is focused on helping his young UMD squad make noise in the playoffs as they advanced to the WCHA Final Five. The Bulldogs (11-25-4) have 11 freshmen on their roster and six sophomores. Gergen, who turned 19 on Feb. 17, is the team’s youngest player.
“We started off kind of slow. Even though our record doesn’t show it, I think we’re getting better each week,” he said. “Down the road, we’re going to be very good. We’ve proven we can beat some good teams.”
Gergen looks forward to improving throughout his four years at UMD.
“I think I just want to get better in all areas, especially improving my strength. That’s one thing I need to work on,” he said. “I want to become more consistent night in and night out.”