EL SEGUNDO, CA — Generally speaking, professional hockey players don’t get to go on vacation until spring or summer, when their season ends, except during an Olympic year, when National Hockey League players who are not playing for their national teams get some time off during the Games. But the season continues for the rest of the professional leagues in North America during the Olympic break, and that is exactly what is happening during the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Despite that, Los Angeles Kings goaltender prospect Jean-Francois Berube, who had moved up to the number one goaltender position with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, found himself on twelve-day vacation during the Sochi games, one that included a trip home, and another to Mexico for some rest and relaxation.
The reason? The Kings wanted backup goaltender Martin Jones to play during the Olympic break, so they assigned him to the Monarchs. But with NHL teams required to have two goaltenders on their rosters, the Kings had to recall Berube, while Mathias Niederberger, who is under contract with the Monarchs, not the Kings, serves as Jones’ backup.
Berube, who was selected by the Kings in the fourth round (95th overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, had no idea he would be getting vacation time, not now, anyway.
“I did not expect that at all,” said the 6-1, 170-pound native of Repentigny, Quebec. “Kim [Dillabaugh, who handles goaltender development for the Kings], gave me a call first, saying that there might be a roster move, giving me a heads up. But I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know I was going to be on a break for so long.”
“It was kind of shocking, at first,” he added. “I didn’t know what to do. I was getting prepared for the weekend’s games. Then, all of a sudden, I’m on a break. I went back home for a couple of days, and then I went on a vacation in Mexico with my girlfriend. It was good to get away from hockey, and do something else.”
Earlier this season, when Kings number one goaltender Jonathan Quick suffered a groin strain at Buffalo on November 12, 2013, an injury that would force him out of the lineup for seven weeks and 24 games, the Kings recalled Jones, which is all most people remember about the Kings’ goaltending situation, at the time.
Jones’ arrival in Los Angeles was so memorable because he went on an absolute tear when he joined the Kings, getting his first start on December 3, 2013, at Anaheim, earning a 3-2 shootout win. He went on to win eight straight games, earning astronomical numbers during that span: 0.98 goals-against average (GAA), .966 save percentage, three shutouts.
Meanwhile, down on the farm, Berube, who is inexperienced at the AHL level and was expecting to be in a backup role this season, suddenly found himself thrust into the number one goaltender role with the Monarchs.
Given that he was never able to seize the number one goalie position in two seasons with the Ontario Reign of the ECHL, suddenly anointing Berube as the Monarchs’ number one could have been a recipe for disaster.
Instead, he took the bull by the horns, so to speak, and shined in his new role.
“I felt strongly that he could play at that level,” said Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford. “He has played at that level, coming out of junior a couple of times, and then when he had to step in last year. It’s been a really good experience for him, and I think he’s really grown as a pro in the last three years.”
“It’s been real good development for him,” added Ranford. “You always wonder whether he can make that next step, and he’s shown that he can.”
Berube indicated that once he knew he would be playing regularly, things got easier.
“It was easier because when you’re a backup goalie, you never know when you’re going to get a chance to play again,” said Berube. “When Jonesy got called up, I knew that was my net, and I didn’t want to give it up. I worked hard to get into that position, and I was ready for it. It was great to be in the net.”
“It’s always easier when you know you’re going to be in the net for [the next game], so I was just going one game at a time, trying to do the best I could to give my team a chance to win, and it went great,” added Berube. “The team has been playing really [well] in front of me. That always makes a goalie’s job easier. We have a great team, and a great group of guys there. Everyone’s pushing in the same direction.”
In 34 games with the Monarchs this season, Berube has earned a 19-13-2 record, with a 2.43 GAA, a .914 save percentage, and one shutout.
“It’s one of those situations where it wasn’t expected that J.F. was going to play a lot of games down in Manchester,” Ranford noted. “But when Quick got hurt, that gave him a good opportunity to settle into the American Hockey League game, and he set a Manchester record with 24 straight starts.”
“It was a good opportunity for me to get into games, and it was fun to have more ice time than I expected,” said Berube. “Guys were playing great, and I went on a long stretch, [but] my body felt great. It was good to be on the ice.”
“The main thing, as a goalie, is confidence, and being consistent,” added Berube. “It was rewarding for me, because I put in so much effort during the summer in previous years. I just wanted to show to everyone that I could get into that number one goalie spot. It’s all about opportunity—taking [advantage of them]. I think I did a good job.”
Ranford pointed to off-season work as a key factor in Berube’s improvement.
“We asked him to get into better shape, and get stronger,” Ranford explained. “He proved that [he was stronger in and better condition] going into Ontario last year. Then he had a really good training camp this year, and it just carried over into this season in the American Hockey League.”
“We had him at a Development Camp a couple of years ago,” Ranford elaborated. “We let him know that he had to be stronger and more fit, and he made a real good decision by going back home and changing up who he was training with, working out with [NHL goaltenders Jean-Sebastien Giguere and [Jonathan] Bernier. Six weeks later, he was a different goalie. He’s always been really strong, technically. But what’s hurt him has always been the conditioning and the strength, being able to withstand a full NHL-style practice, or even a pro game. That’s been the biggest difference.”
“He was a very slight guy, and as soon as he fatigued a little in the crease, that’s when his game started to fall off. Now that he’s got that in place, he’s really grown as a goalie. There were little aspects of the game, like traffic, that he needed to work at, that we really noticed early on last year at Ontario. But by one-third of the way through the season, by working hard at it, it was no longer an issue. He’s not a big guy, and that’s always going to be an issue with guys who aren’t very big, so we just tried some different things with him, and he’s really improved in that area.”
In addition to his improved strength and conditioning, Berube’s mental game has been raised a notch or two as well.
“It’s just about going one game at a time,” Berube noted. “In the American league, you have a lot of three-in-threes (three games in three nights). You can’t worry about the Sunday game, because it just takes your head away from the game. You just have to go one game at a time.”
“My body felt great, so I knew I was in good shape for that,” Berube added. “It was more mental, where it was getting harder [for] Sunday games. It’s really taxing on your body, with all the travel. It was really good to see that my body could hang in there, and the more I played, I felt like it was easier to get focused for the Sunday games.”
“I [need] to have the same game speed for the Sunday games. Especially when we’re playing three-in-three, it’s a little harder to get motivated for the Sunday games. It’s an afternoon game, and there’s not a lot of people in the stands. It’s just that you have to approach that game the same way you do for a Friday game. Kim and Bill talked about keeping the same speed so that I can improve my game.”
Given that in the NHL, the most teams will play are back-to-back games, it is difficult to fathom that at lower levels, it is quite common to see teams playing three games in three nights, something that Berube experienced with the Reign.
But if he thought that was bad, it’s worse now, with the Monarchs.
“I think there’s more three-in-threes in the AHL,” he noted. “We had a lot of mid-week games [with Ontario]. It was more like four games a week in the ECHL, but [in the AHL], almost every weekend is a three-in-three, and the level of play is a lot higher. It’s taxing on your body, but it’s the same for everyone, so you can’t use that as an excuse.”
Once the Olympic break ends, Jones will be recalled by the Kings, and Berube will return to Manchester, where he will once again be the number one goaltender.
“It’s a different scenario here [with the Kings], because it’s the Olympic break,” Berube noted. “It’s just a roster issue where I’m filling in. But once I go back, I have to start right where I left off, and give my team a chance to win. Playoffs are coming quick, and we want to go on a long stretch. But it’s good to come here, and see where my game is with the NHL guys. It’s a good experience for me.”
Now that Berube is the established number one goaltender for the Monarchs, expectations, and the pressure that comes with them, will be higher.
“People are expecting a lot from a number one goalie, but I’m just playing the same game,” he emphasized. “My game doesn’t change. I’m going to try not to over-think, and I’m going to try to focus on the big picture. I’m just going to go there and do my best. When I work hard, I have good results, so I’m not really stressed out about that.”
Berube also put his doubters in their place.
“All my career, there’s been a lot of people who doubted me,” he noted. “But I know what I’m capable of, and there’s a lot of people who believe in me, too. The Kings are part of those people who believe in me.”
“I just want to work hard for the people who believe in me,” he added. “Those who don’t believe in me don’t matter. I’m just going to work hard and do my thing. At the end of the day, I’m doing this for me. It’s something to be proud of when you have good results, and you’re enjoying some success.”
Frozen Royalty’s J.F. Berube Coverage
- LA Kings G Prospect J.F. Berube Is Pushing For Job With The Big Club In 2015-16
- LA Kings Goalie Prospect J.F. Berube Looks To Take An Even Bigger Step Forward In 2014-15
- LA Kings Goalie Prospect J.F. Berube Pushed Hard To Take The Next Step
- LA Kings Looking For Goalie Prospect J.F. Berube To Step Up to #2 Position With AHL’s Manchester Monarchs
- LA Kings Prospect Jean-Francois Berube Is Struggling To Earn #1 Goalie Spot With ECHL’s Ontario Reign
- LA Kings Goaltender Prospect J.F. Berube Will Need To Pick Up Development Pace In 2012-13
- Frozen Royalty Audio: LA Kings 2012 Development Camp
- Strong Goalie Pipeline Is A First And A Sign Of Strength For The Los Angeles Kings
- Frozen Royalty Audio: 2011 Los Angeles Kings Development Camp – Part 2
- LA Kings 2009 Draft Goes As Planned
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