Gann Matsuda On The Hockey Writers: LA Kings’ Jonathan Bernier Navigating Uncharted Waters

LOS ANGELES — After a brilliant year in the American Hockey League, goaltender Jonathan Bernier had a spot on the Los Angeles Kings’ 2010-11 roster locked up as soon as the 2009-10 season ended.

Indeed, the Kings’ first round pick (11th overall) in the 2006 National Hockey League Entry Draft is in the midst of the biggest challenge of his hockey career, not to earn a roster spot, but to be a backup goaltender for the first time in his career, and although he has started just two games so far this season, it is apparent that he still has some growing up to do in terms of becoming a full-fledged NHL netminder.

After three outstanding seasons with the Lewiston MAINEiacs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Bernier made the Kings roster out of training camp in the 2007-08 season. But the franchise was just starting the first true rebuilding effort in their history, and what they had for a defense in front of Bernier had so many holes, it made swiss cheese look solid.

The 5-11, 186-pound native of Laval, Quebec played in four games, earning a 1-3-0 record with a 4.03 goals-against average (GAA) and a .864 save percentage—bad numbers for any NHL goaltender. But they were more reflective of the awful team in front of him, and to prevent him from getting shell-shocked, Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi decided to send Bernier back to Lewiston to finish the season.

Bernier was not happy about the move, and it showed in his play.

“It was tough for me because I thought I was able to play at [the NHL] level, so as soon as I got sent down, for me, it was the timing,” Bernier explained in an interview with Frozen Royalty in July, 2008. “For the first week, it was kind of hard. I was always fast on the play.”

“I think the biggest thing was mental,” Bernier elaborated. “I was so down that I didn’t make it. Then everything just comes into it…the bus rides, the food. [In Los Angeles], the guys have their wives so they’re more mature…It just made it harder.”

A phone call from Lombardi got the young netminder back on track.

“Remember, he went down back to junior, pouted for awhile and everything else,” Lombardi explained. “Even this year, when we called up [Jonathan] Quick, [Bernier] did not work hard in practice. He thought this was going to be an easy ride to the NHL.”

“Dean talked to me and said, ‘if you want to play [with the Kings], you’ve got to play up,’” said Bernier. “That just woke me up and I started playing good, and I think it was the right time because two days after I went to the World Juniors and made the team.”

But with his final season in junior hockey and a taste of life in the NHL under his belt, that summer, Bernier went into the Kings’ annual Development Camp with a chip on his shoulder.

When asked how he would feel if the Kings decided to send him to the minors rather than expose him to another season of horrible play in front of him at the NHL level, Bernier, in no uncertain terms, said that he would be very upset if he was sent down even if he performed well.

“I’ll be mad, really mad,” said the brash, young netminder. who apparently felt a sense of entitlement after being a first round draft pick…

To read the full story, click on: LA Kings’ Jonathan Bernier Navigating Uncharted Waters.

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