Scherbak learns important lessons as an Ice Cap
When you were growing up and messing around with a basketball in the backyard — everyone has a hoop — what was the one thing everyone wanted to do?
That’s right. Everyone wanted to try and dunk a basketball.
If you’re net was nailed to the front of a shed, chances are you hauled out any piece of equipment available to you and tried to jump off that in an attempt to slam the ball through the net. Tires were popular at my house partly because my uncle owns a trucking company, but there were times we’d try jumping off each other’s back to try and fly for a couple of brief seconds.
If someone was lucky enough to have a net with an adjustable hoop, dunking was easier. You’d just lower it to your height and get on with the 360 windmills.
Even with that ability, you’d want to raise the net and try the actual feat.
So, what is it about the attraction to the slam dunk?
We’re drawn to the slam dunk like moths to a flame. It has an allure that’s matched in North American sports only by bending a soccer ball.
Even at the weekend warrior level, a guy who can cram the ball through the hoop is revered for being tall, having long arms and a bit of athletic ability.
Players are drawn to others who can dunk. Those guys, and ones who can shoot the lights out, are magnets for attention.
It doesn’t matter which level it happens at. Dunking is must watch.
Go to a high school game in St. John’s and watch for the guys who can throw it down. From the time they take a couple of strides from the three-point line, rise up and cram it, eyeballs turn to them.
People pay attention when they have the ball in the lay-up line. Little kids scream ‘dunk’ when they start their approach.
It’s like that at the MUN Field House and the Air Canada Centre.
Professional ball players more float than jump. Sure, the bigger guys can get up there, but they don’t fly with ease some of their peers do.
It’s the closest humans come to flight without the help of a parachute or jumping from high elevations.
The dunk is poetry in motion at the highest degree. It’s like having an anti-gravity device strapped around your waist.
The dunk is attainable to only a few of us. That’s why it’s such an attraction. Just like not everyone can hit a softball 450 feet or throw a football the length of the field.
Going top corner in hockey can be practiced. So, can playing second base or dribbling the ball.
You can’t practice a slam dunk. You can either throw it down or you count. There’s no drill that allows you to jump higher.
It’s one of those sporting abilities that is a gift rather than one earned through hard work.
That’s what draws people to the slam dunk.
The idea that the development of a hockey player involves his mental makeup as much — perhaps more — than his physical skills has been pretty evident through the first four games of the St. John’s Ice Caps’ current home stand at Mile One Centre. Just check out Ice Caps head coach Sylvain Lefebvre as he adopted Liam Neeson’s “Lego Movie” role of bad cop/good cop in his handling of top prospect Nikita Scherbak.
Actually it was more a case of good cop/bad cop.
Recently, during two games against the Providence Bruins, Lefebvre seemed to take a patient, benevolent attitude with Scherbak, who had a litany of rough shifts, including one on Saturday where he turned over a puck on the power play leading to a shorthanded goal that cued a Providence comeback from a 3-0 deficit.
But Lefebvre showed forbearance and stayed with the young Russian, giving him a regular shift and using him in the last minute of regulation, in overtime and in the shootout, where Scherbak repaid his coach’s trust with a winning marker.
But after Scherbak — and, mind you, most of the rest of his teammates — produced an absolute clunker Tuesday in a 6-2 loss to the Syracuse Crunch, Lefebvre did as that law-enforcing Lego character would do, and changed from a smiley face to a stern one.
Scherbak was in the lineup for Wednesday’s rematch with Syracuse, but he didn’t play a shift in the first period.
He didn’t like the benching, obviously, but once he hit the ice in the second period, Scherbak made the Crunch pay for whatever displeasure he felt. He scored St. John’s first goal on a laser-pointer shot to the top corner, and with time ticking down in the second frame, showed real tenacity, helping force a turnover in the Syracuse end and sending a deft pass to Marcus Eisenschmid, who scored — as the video review would show — with a 10th of a second left before the buzzer.
Wednesday, after what turned out be another shootout win for the Ice Caps, Scherbak offered a polite “I don’t really have a comment on that,” when first asked what he was feeling during the first period.
But there’s no doubt the benching hit him hard.
“It got me right in my mind, I guess, and right in my heart,” said Scherbak.
And there was no doubt Lefebvre was interested in how Scherbak would react, but so was the player, especially since he said he had never experienced so obvious a punishment before.
“Like Sly (Lefebvre) said, you have to respond like a man and I think I did,” said Scherbak, who actually described it as “good experience.”
“Now I know something more about myself, about what I can do in those situations,” he said.
Whether Scherbak was being used as an example after a team-wide stinker Tuesday — he is after all, the Ice Caps’ leading score with 17 points on nine goals (also a team high) and eight assists — or the object of specifically directed penance, Lefebvre wouldn’t say.
He did say that while they had discussions after Tuesday’s game, Scherbak had no pre-knowledge that he would be benched for the first 20 minutes Wednesday.
“I don’t need top go over the details. It was something be- tween Scherby and I,” said Lefebvre.
“I’m trying to find ways to make sure Scherby understands he’s a professional.
“But the thing everyone forgets is that he’s still young. He hasn’t turned 20 yet. But with the work ethic and with the skills he has, he can do some damage and he won’t spend too much time here.”
Scherbak, who turns 21 later this month, certainly had some veteran-like takes on the game Wednesday, saying the win was by far the most important thing, especially against the first-place team in the division which had schooled them the night before.
“It’s not about the personal stuff — yeah, I got benched, but it was important for us to get those points and we did it as a team,” he said. “It was good to be part of that, to have helped.”
Scherbak knows there will be dealt other knocks — just hopefully, not the kind he experienced in the first part of Wednesday’s game. Whatever they are, whenever they come, he says he expects to be able to react in a similar way.
“It’s not in my character … to give up. I made a promise to myself and to my parents that I’m not going to give up in my life,” he said.
“This is just a step to living up to that, just one step of many.”
St. John’s Ice Caps winger Nikita Scherbak, shown in this file photo, was benched for the first period of Wednesday’s 3-2 shootout win over Syracuse, but came back to have a hand in both of the IceCaps’ regulation-time goals.