Robert Gherson wasn’t expecting to see much action between the pipes during the Calder Cup championship against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, but the backup netminder for the Chicago Wolves was raring to go.
Playing behind American Hockey League (AHL) rookie-of-the-year candidate Andrej Pavelec, Gherson turned in a solid regular season, going 8-6 with a pair of shutouts and a 2.61 goals-against average along with a .914 save percentage. In 17 minutes spread over two playoff games, his save percentage dropped to .750.
Most importantly, however, he proved to himself and others that he can play at this level.
“I’m just trying to stay consistent and play well every chance I get,” Gherson said a while back in his hometown during the AHL Western Conference finals against the Toronto Marlies. Chicago won the best-of-seven series in five games.
“Everything kind of fell into place here, and I got my chance. It’s gone well this year.”
After starting the season with the Elmira Jackals of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), the 24-year-old caught a break when the Wolves, the Atlanta Thrashers’ AHL affiliate, came calling at the end of October. Chicago was in need of a backup goalie after Fred Brathwaite went to Russia and the six-foot-one, 175-pounder fit the bill.
“He came in and played outstanding for us,” said Wolves coach John Anderson, the former Maple Leafs right winger. “We’re lucky to have him. Certainly, he’s impressed everybody here.”
After four seasons in the OHL with the Sarnia Sting and Owen Sound Attack, Gherson was chosen by the Washington Capitals in the fifth round of the 2002 NHL entry draft. He was unsigned after attending two of their camps, but turned pro nevertheless, bouncing around the minor league circuit.
He made his professional debut with the Quad City Mallards of the United Hockey League in 2004, earning all-rookie honours in going 24-12-7 and posting a 2.25 goals-against average with three shutouts in 45 games.
That earned him a trip to the New York Rangers’ training camp and a shot the following season with their AHL farm team in Hartford. He signed a tryout contract and again put up solid numbers, 20-11-2 with a 2.69 goals-against average in 35 games.
He joined the Columbia Inferno in the ECHL the following season.
Gherson had a disappointing 2006-07 campaign with Columbia, going 13-21-3, with a 3.80 goals-against average. He was invited to compete in last summer’s World Jewish Cup in Israel – a tournament with teams from Canada, Israel, the United States and France – but declined for personal reasons.
Anderson made his international coaching debut at that competition, leading the United States to the gold medal in Metulla. Wolves owner Don Levin had asked him if he’d be interested, and Anderson jumped at the opportunity.
“We just had a fun time over there,” Anderson recalled. “I rafted down the Jordan River, went to Jerusalem and the Old City, spent two days in Tel Aviv. It was great!”
Meanwhile, Gherson is hopeful that one day he will get to represent his country in Israel, perhaps even at the Maccabiah Games, an event his father Maurice participated in 35 years ago.
Maurice Gherson competed for Great Britain at the 1973 Games in cricket and was voted Maccabi Personality of the Year.
He had the honour of hitting the first ever six in a match (equivalent to a home run) in Israeli International cricket and vividly recalls the opening ceremonies at Ramat Gan Stadium in Tel Aviv.
Standing in the front, a few feet from a very emotional Israeli prime minister Golda Meir as she observed the Jewish youths from around the world, he remembers shouting, “Long live Golda.”
The senior Gherson added: “She turned gently towards the British team, smiled, waved, raised her arms and shed a tear – a very moving moment, which will live with me forever.”