By Matt Mackinder
Nate Gay picked the perfect time to show he belongs in the NA3HL with the Toledo Cherokee.
The weekend of Dec. 14-16, Gay, in just his second and third starts in goal for the Cherokee, logged both wins as Toledo swept the Flint Jr. Generals on home ice at the Team Toledo Ice House. Ask Gay about his performance, though, and he plays the humble card. “In the Flint series, I was just hoping to make a good impression and help the team win,” said Gay, an 18-year-old from Bowling Green, Ohio. “I'm glad that we came out of it with a four-point sweep.”
After starting the season in the Minnesota Junior Hockey League, Gay was acquired at the beginning of December and in a roundabout way, experienced an “it’s about time” moment as the Cherokee drafted Gay back in the 2010 NA3HL (then Central States Hockey League) draft. “The NA3 seems to be more of a hard-nosed, grind-it-out style of play, which I'm more used to and actually prefer,” Gay said. “The games are tighter and more exciting to play and that makes you have to work even harder.
“In just a few short weeks with the team, I feel like I'm definitely clicking with the boys. One thing I've noticed with the team is that they all push each other everyday to become better and still find ways to make it fun and creative. I've noticed that (fellow goalie) Nate (Miller) has had a great season so far. I'm hoping we can push each other to be at the top of our game and help the team make a good playoff run.” At 6-foot-4, Gay and Miller are each tall for goalies, but as far as size, Gay said it’s how one utilizes it that makes a goalie successful. “A lot of people think that just being big makes you a good goalie, but I feel that I have to work harder to keep up with the quickness that the smaller goalies have,” explained Gay.
Last year, Gay played for Bowling Green High Schooland played pre-post hockey for the Sylvania Maple Leafs U18 team coached by Mike Mankowski. ”Coach Manko pushed everyone on the team to be successful and we made it to the national championship game,” said Gay. “This gave me a lot of confidence heading into summer tryouts that I could have a chance at playing junior hockey. Even after the Cherokee drafted me two years ago, I decided to finish playing out high school hockey. I've taken advantage of summer skates here the last couple of years which helped me keep in shape and play with some higher level players. I've been friends and played with or against a lot of the guys on this team in the past, which makes it fun to be here. I'm already enjoying the blue-collar work ethic of the team and the NA3.”
And with college hockey on the brain for down the road, Gay said that’s for the future and for now, he just wants to keep winning hockey games. "I just want to help the Cherokee go as far as possible this season,” said Gay. “I hope to make the move up to the NA when I'm ready and eventually play hockey at a Division I college. Hopefully, my short-term goals will lead me to my long-term goals one step at a time.”