EL SEGUNDO, CA — As the Los Angeles Kings opened their 2010 training camp on September 18 at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California, one of the biggest question marks really isn’t a question at all.
Indeed, despite what the Kings are saying about who their backup goaltender will be on opening night, barring injury or other unforeseen circumstances, Jonathan Bernier will be their number two goaltender, leaving Erik Ersberg, who served as the Kings’ full-time backup the last two seasons, as the odd man out.
Bernier, 22, who was selected by the Kings in the first round (11th overall) of the 2006 National Hockey League Entry Draft, was the American Hockey League’s best goaltender last season, leading the Manchester Monarchs (Kings’ primary minor league affiliate), to the AHL’s Eastern Conference Finals.
Last season, Bernier was impressive, to say the least. In 58 regular season games for the Monarchs (3,424 minutes), he earned a 30-21-6 record, a 2.03 goals-against average (GAA), a .936 save percentage and nine shutouts.
In 16 playoff games (996 minutes) last season, Bernier was 10-6, with a 1.81 GAA and a .939 save percentage.
To be sure, the 5-11, 184-pound native of Laval, Quebec has excelled at every level and appears to possess elite-level skills. But until last season, Bernier had a lot of growing up to do, perhaps feeling a sense of entitlement after being a first round draft pick.
Indeed, just a couple of years ago, I asked the brash, cocky netminder how he would feel if the Kings decided to send him to the minors even if he performed well at their 2008 training camp.
“I’ll be mad, really mad,” he said.
But with a couple of seasons with the Monarchs under his belt, the young netminder has pushed ahead in terms of his maturity.
An example…when asked if he expects to make the Kings’ roster this year, Bernier provided a very tactful response.
“I don’t know, that’s not for me to decide,” he said. “It’s from up top [coaches and management]. But, hopefully, I’ve done what I needed to do. Hopefully, I’m ready to play at this level.”
And then, when asked for his thoughts about Jonathan Quick being named as the Kings’ number one goaltender right from the start of camp, once again, Bernier displayed a maturity that was not apparent prior to last season.
“Oh yeah, I respect that,” said Bernier. “He earned his spot. He’s been tremendous for this team. He got that team into the playoffs, so I have a lot of respect for him. I just have to do my job and not worry about that.”
If this was two years ago, Bernier may not have been quite so gracious.
“I’ve matured a lot,” said Bernier. “I’m 22 now, compared to 18 or 19. I learned a lot in Manchester. They were big years. My first year at Manchester, I didn’t play as well as I wanted to, but [from] those ups and downs, I think I learned a lot.”
Bernier also got a look with the Kings late last season, starting three games, impressing just about everyone as he went 3-0-0 (185 minutes) with a 1.30 GAA, a .957 save percentage and one shutout.
“All those years, I think, coming into this training camp really helps me,” Bernier stressed. “I’m more confident and playing in those three games last year gave me a little boost for the whole summer and coming into this year.”
Assuming Bernier locks down the number two goaltender position, he is facing a big reduction in what he is accustomed to in terms of ice time.
But he does not sound concerned.
“It’s going to be a good test for me, going back from sixty to twenty games or 25,” he said. “But you never know what’s going to happen, so I’ve got to go day-by-day and just do what I can do. The rest? I can’t control it.”
“I want to be the best I can be and work hard.”
Despite the fact that Bernier is more than a heavy favorite to win the number two spot, Ersberg is not going to go quietly into the night.
“There’s been a lot of talk about this and that and what’s going to happen,” said Ersberg, 28. “But everything is out of my control, so I’m just doing my thing, trying to be as good as possible. If I’m doing the best I can, it’s going to be good for me, no matter what happens.”
“That’s better than [constantly looking over his shoulder, wondering], ‘what’s he doing over there, what’s he doing over there?’ I’ve just got to do my thing and see what happens.”
That is certainly a noble, positive attitude.
“[Kings coaches and management] haven’t really said anything,” he said. As far as I know, it’s camp, and, as usual, you fight for positions. Everybody is trying to do their best.”
Last season, Quick was the workhorse, starting 72 games, leaving Ersberg to gather dust on the bench, getting into just eleven games (551 minutes), earning a 4-3-2 record, a 2.40 GAA and a .906 save percentage.
To be sure, Ersberg was not happy about spending so much time getting rusty on the bench, and he expressed his feelings to head coach Terry Murray during his exit interview at the end of last season.
“We had a good conversation about the year,” Ersberg explained. “I laid out what I thought about things and he said how he looked at things. I think we got a little better understanding of each other’s point of view.”
“I think it was a good meeting,” Ersberg elaborated. “We ventilated a little bit. It’s what you do, it’s after the season, so if you’ve got something on your mind, you need to say it.”
To his credit, Ersberg is not sulking about his difficult situation.
“I think I have the same approach to every camp since I’ve been here,” he noted. “[I have to] work my [rear end] off in camp and try to show what I’ve got.”
“I played here the last couple of years and I’m going to do everything I can to be here this year,” he added. “If not, then I’m just going to have to see what happens and play it by ear.”
As for the already-anointed number one goaltender, he spent the summer getting stronger and slimming down a bit.
“It was about two, 2 1/2 weeks before I started doing light workouts and getting a sweat going,” said Quick. “At around three or four weeks, I was back in the weight room, hitting it pretty hard.”
His workouts were not much different from last summer.
“As far as training, nothing too different,” he noted. “Maybe the workouts were a little bit longer. I was trying to get a little more exercise in per day.”
The 6-1 native of Milford, Connecticut was listed at 223 pounds last season, but now weighs 210.
“I lost body weight and put on a little bit of muscle,” said Quick. “Overall, my weight is down.”
“I think the biggest thing was my diet,” added Quick. “I was on a pretty strict diet over the summer and I think it’ll pay off in the long run. There was no junk food at all in the house. It was pretty much vegetables, chicken, really lean beef, and maybe I’d mix in a sweet potato or two before a workout.”
Last season, as stated earlier, Quick started 72 games (4,258 minutes), earning a 39-24-7 record, a 2.54 GAA, a .907 save percentage and four shutouts.
In six playoff games (360 minutes), Quick was 2-4 with a 3.50 GAA and a .884 save percentage.
Many believe that Quick’s numbers would have been better if he had not played in so many games, and Murray has already stated that his plan is for Quick to play somewhere around 57-60 games this season.
But Quick claims that he is prepared for more, if necessary.
“Optimally, I want to play every night,” he emphasized. “I think any goalie in the league, when they’re on the bench, they’ll do what they can for the team to support them. But I think everyone wants to be on the ice every night.”
“This summer, I trained as if I was going to play 72 games again,” he added. “If I don’t [play that many games again this season], I don’t.”
With Bernier pushing him for playing time, Quick knows that he has to perform and that he cannot take the number one goaltender position for granted.
“Even though Terry Murray said that I’m the number one [goaltender], I still feel like I need to earn it every day,” said Quick. “There are guys who are competing for playing time and positions. They’re not taking a day off, so you have to go out every day, work your butt off and put your best foot forward.”
“If I’m not playing up to my capabilities, you can’t blame them for putting someone else in there, so, at the end of the day, I still have to be able to win games in order to keep that spot,” added Quick.
“[We have] three great goalies. It is better for all the goalies in the organization. It makes everyone play a little harder in practice, so it’s good.”
Raw Audio Interviews (edited to remove extraneous material and dead air)
Erik Ersberg (3:14)
Jonathan Bernier (3:53)
Jonathan Quick (8:00)
Frozen Royalty by Gann Matsuda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Frozen Royalty – Licensing and Copyright Information.