THE SAGA OF STEVE BERNIER: PART ONE

by Ron Spence

Doesn’t this remind you of #44 – in his prime?

“[He] carries the puck down the right side of the ice and is challenged along the boards by Blues defenseman Christian Backman [#55]. [He] holds him off with his left arm, and turns in hard towards the goal. He controls the puck with the stick in his right hand.

At the top of the crease, Backman twists [him] hard at the last minute, so his back faces the goaltender. [He] stays on his feet, but instead of coming to a stop, he keeps his momentum moving. Still maintaining possession of the puck with one hand, [he] completes the 360 spin to the left and shovels the puck towards a foot of open space between Reinhard Divis’s leg pad and the goal post. The puck banked off the post into the back of Divis’s skate and ricocheted into the net.”

The following comment doesn’t remind me of #44 – at any time.

“I didn’t see video … kind of don’t want to because I don’t think it is very important. That is in the past. Now I am going to think about the next game. I am going to try to be ready and to forget about this.”

Both the goal and the comments came from Vancouver’s newest power forward, Steve Bernier.

His goal on March 25, 2006, was the rookie’s second of the night (San Jose would win the game 6-0.)

The video that Bernier refers to was – an elbow to his head, from behind, into the boards. It came from Nashville’s Alexander Radulov, who received a one game suspension.

This was during Game 2, of Round One of the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Bernier lay on the ice motionless – for three minutes – before being helped off by Joe Thornton and Marcel Goc.

“I took some X-rays in Nashville, but I feel fine,” Bernier explained. “If it is not dangerous to play, I am going to play for sure … I remember getting hit, I had no idea who it was. After that I missed a couple of things while I was on the ice. But I recovered my memory very fast. I don’t think it was a very, very big injury, but it was just to make sure I was fine. You don’t want to take any chances.”

Nashville - April 13, 2007

Nashville - April 13, 2007 - courtesy of Getty Images

The Wildcats weren’t taking any chances when they took Bernier first overall in the Midget Draft (He had played with Ste-Foy, which won the Air Canada Cup in Midget AAA.). He was later named to the QMJHL Rookie All-Star team, and was twice voted to the Second All-Star squad.

In his first two Moncton seasons, he scored 31 goals, along with 28 assists (but was -20) in 2001-02, and 49 goals with 52 assists (and +33) during the 2002-03 campaign.

Bernier was eligible for the NHL draft in 2003, which was one of the best draft years, ever.

“That ’03 draft is like none other,” said Rick Dudley. “You look at the draft and it’s more about who didn’t make it then who will. And some of those kids are still probably going to have a chance to make it.”

As well as having scored 49 goals, Bernier was ranked very high for his general play.

‘[Steve Bernier] has a strong hockey sense,” wrote Phil Coffey of NHL.com, “is almost impossible to knock off the puck and is tenacious in the corners.”

There was a negative, however. His conditioning was soft.

Still, San Jose was interested.

With Zack Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, and Steve Bernier still available for the 16th choice, the Bruins traded down to # 21 [Mark Stuart], and were given: a second round choice – # 66 [Masi Marjamaki] – and a fourth round choice – # 107 [Byron Bitz] – by San Jose.

What many teams hadn’t realized, was that Bernier – now concerned about his weight – had lost 10 pounds between the time of the pre-draft testing, and the draft.

The following 2003-04 season, his goal scoring fell off – 36 goals along with 46 assists (and +39).

He explained why to Eric Forest of Hockey’s Future:

“I know that my physical condition could have been better last year, but I’ve learned about it, and I can’t wait for the next training camp where I will be able to silence them once and for all … They told me to work on my skating, something I’m doing day in and day out. When I went to San Jose for training camp, I saw how it was up there and I promised to myself to train even harder this summer, especially on my feet, to be able to make it. I’m really excited for the future … If you look at it in terms of production, it wasn’t that great [2002-04], but I do think I improved my defensive game a lot … Like I said, I think I play a better defensive game and I improved my acceleration to gain my speed.”

Forest assessed Bernier’s play that season:

“He possesses a great pair of hands and an offensive flair. He likes driving to the net and fighting in the corners against tougher opponents. He’s gradually learning to develop his defensive game and ended the season at +39 … However, some people could tell you that his production was lower than what was expected from him this year, scoring 36 goals and 46 assists for 82 points. Nonetheless, he only played in 66 games this year … In perspective, Bernier didn’t match up last year numbers (101 points) but definitely improved in other important areas of the game.”

Bernier started the 2004-05 campaign – his fourth year of Major Junior – somewhat frustrated. He was ready to play in the American League, but it was full of NHL rookies – because of the lockout – so there wasn’t any room for the up-and-coming juniors.

Still, he played well – 35 goals, with 36 assists, but only +18.

Bernier also picked up a Player of the Week honour in November, from the Canadian Major Junior Hockey League.

That summer, Sharks GM Doug Wilson talked to NHL.com about Bernier’s progress:

“We are very pleased with his progress. He became a leader on that team and he had a really good playoffs. He’s a big, powerful kid who really worked on his strength and fitness. He loves to play the game and can play any way you want to play. He had 35 goals and 114 penalty minutes while finishing as a plus player.

“We want players that just really love to play the game. I like the work he did in the summer. He showed he wanted to be a good hockey player. The fitness problem was way back when he was drafted and it’s not an issue in any way. He did not know how to train. Since we got our hands on him, he has changed his body and we are really proud of him in that area.

“He has great hands and is defensively aware. He’s not a one-dimensional player. When you look at a guy go from juniors to the pros and work on areas that are his weaknesses, you really like that.”

courtesy of: http://www.moncton-wildcats: com

The 2005-06 season, Bernier went to San Jose’s American Hockey League team, the Cleveland Barons.

He started off gangbusters, and was nominated for the AHL rookie of the Month for October – won by Portland Pirates’ center Ryan Shannon.

Doug Wilson announced that Benier would be joining the Sharks on November 4:

“Appearing in nine games this season,” the press release stated, “Bernier leads the Barons in goals (4), assists (6), points (6-4-10), game-winning goals (2), and shooting percentage (26.7). His seven-game point streak from Oct. 8 – Oct. 27 is tied for the fourth longest point streak in the AHL this season. In addition, he is tied for fifth among all rookies in points.”

Bernier collected his first NHL goal on Nov. 12, against Dallas. In five games, he posted one goal, and was even, before returning to Cleveland.

He later talked to David Pollak, of the San Jose Mercury, about his November callup.

“I think the most important thing was confidence. It’s tough to play good if you don’t have confidence. But I also had to improve my skating, my quickness….”

Bernier continued to motor, and by late January, had 43 points in 49 AHL games.

He was back in the Big Tent again, but it took him 12 games to regain his scoring touch.

Bernier started clicking on March 7. He scored 13 goals, with 21 points, in the season’s final 23 games, as San Jose went 16-4-3.

By this time, he was playing with Patrick Marleau and Milan Michalek – a line which became a force during the post-season.

In the last 4 games of the Nashville series, Marleau scored 7 goals, Bernier notched a goal, and 2 assists, and Michalek scored a goal and an assist.

Bernier’s goal was the game winner on April 26th – on the power play.

When asked about it, he replied: “We won the game, and that’s the most important thing for me … Most of the time, the puck never comes to you around the net like that. It was a good opportunity for me.”

Bernier finished the playoffs with 1 goal and 5 assists, in 11 post-season games. San Jose’s second line had been playing very well, until Michalek was injured, and the Oilers had taken over.

Nashville’s colour man, and former NHL player and coach, Terry Crisp talked about San Jose’s coming of age:

“Everybody’s been waiting for Marleau to come out of his cocoon. Well suddenly Patrick Marleau came out of his cocoon … The youngster Bernier suddenly came out of nowhere and was flying around … All names you didn’t hear of – they’re not household names – they suddenly stepped up their game immensely.”

The season over, Steve Bernier talked to David Pollak:

“My goal was to come play in San Jose this year. If that would be on the fourth line, it would be on the fourth line. If that would be on the first line, it would be the first line. If I was in the stands – for just in case something happened, an injury – I’d be here for sure.”

Steve Bernier would be back in San Jose for most of the following season. And he would spend some time in the stands, and some time in Ron Wilson’s doghouse.

_____________________________________________________

Play-by-play of the spectacular Bernier goal courtesy of: PJ Swenson from Sharkspage.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s