Texan Sniper It’s fun, Games and Goals for Blades Star

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Max Gerlach scored five goals in the Blades’ first-round sweep of Moose Jaw. (Photo by Darren Steinke)

When Max Gerlach’s playing days wrap up with the Saskatoon Blades, there will be one less microphone popping into media scrums.

The overage sharpshooting right-winger often jumps into media scrums pretending to record interviews with his teammates on his smartphone. Along with his scoring talents, he brought that gag with him after being acquired in a trade with the Medicine Hat Tigers on Jan. 10, 2018.

“I think it’s a lot of fun,” said Gerlach, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 165 pounds. “I think when certain guys have interviews or guys that never really get to do the media stuff, I try make it kind of more fun.

“I make them laugh, make them a little bit more comfortable. I think it is always fun. I have a pretty fun personality.

“I try to mess around with all the guys quite a bit. That is kind of a fun way to not get somebody too mad, but it will definitely put a smile on their face. It is all fun and games.”

The product of Flower Mound, Texas, has turned heads with his prowess to score goals since arriving in the WHL at the start of the 2015-16 season.

He has scored 30 or more goals in each of the four seasons he spent on the circuit. This season he netted a career high 42 goals and 74 points, marking the first time he hit the 40-goal plateau.

“That obviously felt really good,” said Gerlach. “You want to do as best as you can for the team to help them win. Anyway I can help the team, I feel great about it.”

Now Gerlach is skating through his final days in the league, which he is trying to extend for as long as possible. He helped the Blades make the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

In the Blades’ first-round, four-game sweep of the Moose Jaw Warriors, Gerlach scored five goals. 

He will no doubt make more memories when the Blades tangle with their archrivals, the Prince Albert Raiders, in a best-of-seven second-round series that begins late this week. 

The Raiders topped the WHL with a 54-10-2-2 mark in the regular season, finished rated second in the CHL’s Top 10 rankings and swept the Red Deer Rebels in the first round.

The Blades were an honourable mention in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.

The conference final was set up due to the WHL’s playoff format that mirrors the NHL, where teams mainly play through their division despite their records.

To this point, it hasn’t crossed Gerlach’s mind what it will be like when his time with the team is done. He will graduate from the major junior ranks when the Blades’ post-season run ends.

“That is something I haven’t really thought too much about,” said Gerlach. “I am just trying to take it day by day. 

“It will be bittersweet when it is all over. Obviously, I will be excited to move on to pro hockey or wherever I may be, and obviously be sad when it is all done here in the Western Hockey League.”

Gerlach was one of the players that caught the attention of Mitch Love, who took over as the Blades head coach last May. As Love got to know his new players over the course of the summer, he pegged Gerlach to be part of the team’s leadership group, making him an assistant captain.

The decision came after considering a number of factors.

“I think (it’s) his experience, obviously, and he comes from a good program in Medicine Hat.

“They’ve had some real good teams with some success over the years. He is a well-liked kid. We did a team vote at the beginning of the year, and he was up there in terms of guys wanting to see him a part of that leadership group.

“That says a lot for the kid. He has a tonne of character and a tonne of personality, and that is what we really like here.”

Love said the standout goal scorer has been a pleasure to coach.

“Max (Gerlach) is a great kid,” said Love. “He is a pure goal scorer.

“I think the most impressive part for me this year in working with him is his want to be a better all-around player, be a little more defensive and understanding that is going to have to be a big part of his game, if he wants to move on and play pro hockey.

“He has done a good job with that. He is a pleasure to work with. I truly enjoy coming to work and getting to spend time with him.”

Due to his outstanding shot, Gerlach was nicknamed “Texan Sniper.” He said he honed that skill the old-fashioned way.

“I think (it was the result of) just a lot of hours on the driveway at home,” said Gerlach. “Obviously growing up in Texas, we didn’t have outdoor rinks or anything like that.

“I didn’t skate outside until I was 12. My dad built a wooden net inside the garage and lots of hours and time spent shooting pucks with him. If it wasn’t for him making the net and pushing me hard every single day, I don’t think I’d have today for sure.”

Gerlach has enjoyed this past season. When the Blades officially locked up a playoff berth, the relief and excitement from players who have been with the team for an extended time was obvious. He said the next step was to go out and make some noise in the post-season.

“It has definitely been a blast, (especially) with this organization being kind of down in the dumps a little bit with the last couple of years.

“It is nice to have a winning season here. All the attitudes have kind of changed from last year, where it was a little bit gloomy. Everyone is a lot happier.

“Obviously when you get ranked in the top 10 (in the CHL) like we have a couple of times this year, that is really comforting. We know we are one of those top teams in the league. Obviously being my last year, I want to make it as long as I can.”

When Gerlach isn’t with the Blades next season, Love admitted it will be different. The bench boss said the team has to keep moving forward and hopes others will pick up some of things the Texan brought to the team.

With that in mind, Love said Gerlach left his mark.

“You hope when your 20-year-olds leave your program they’ve left some sort of a stamp on the culture change here,” said Love. “Him and (Brandon) Schuldhaus and (Dawson) Davidson have definitely done that.

“They’ve been a huge part of our hockey club.”

(You can see more of Darren Steinke’s work in his online blog stankssermon.blogspot.ca.)