AUDIO INTERVIEWS: Also included are raw audio interviews with J.F. Berube and Los Angeles Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford.
LOS ANGELES — On June 26, hours before the first round of the 2015 National Hockey League Draft was scheduled to begin, the Los Angeles Kings had already made quite the splash, acquiring winger Milan Lucic from the Boston Bruins in exchange for goaltender Martin Jones, defenseman Colin Miller and a first round pick (13th overall) in the 2015 draft (defenseman Jakub Zboril).
After the deal was finalized, Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi spoke with the media about the trade and he indicated that one of the reasons he was able to make the deal was that, “…we’ve got a backup goalie now.”
Lombardi uttered those words five days before signing unrestricted free agent netminder Jonas Enroth to a one-year contract, which means Lombardi was, in all likelihood, referring to goaltending prospect Jean-Francois Berube, who was selected by the Kings in the fourth round (95th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
Last season, the 24-year-old, 6-1, 177-pound native of Repentigny, Quebec played in 52 regular season games (3,025 minutes) with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, earning a 37-9-4 record, with a 2.18 goals-against average (GAA), a .913 save percentage and two shutouts.
In the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs, Berube played in 17 games (1,019) minutes, earning a 13-3 record, with a 2.30 GAA, and a .898 save percentage, helping lead the Monarchs to the Calder Cup Championship.
“Especially with the year we had, it was really special to be a part of this group,” Berube said about the 2015 Calder Cup Champions. “I think we deserved it. We worked hard, all season, for this. It was definitely a big accomplishment for the whole team.”
The Monarchs ended up winning the Calder Cup Final against the Utica Comets in five games. But for Berube, the Final was cut short when he was injured and had to leave Game 3 at Utica on June 10, 2015, just 7:51 into the game.
“The guy was coming on my right side,” Berube explained. “I slid, and jammed my skate on the post. When he shot, I made the save, but when I did my weight transfer, that’s when my ankle popped. I knew right away that it wasn’t good. Normally, when something pops, it’s not looking good.”
Berube was next seen wearing a walking boot on his right foot/ankle. Kings prospect Patrik Bartosak finished that game and the rest of the series in goal for the Monarchs.
The injury turned out to be a bone bruise and a high ankle sprain.
“It’s definitely a long recovery, but I have the summer to recover,” said Berube.
The Calder Cup Championship was a fitting end, given what Berube had set out to accomplish.
“I set the bar really high for myself, right from the beginning of the season,” he noted. “I remember having a meeting with Coach [Mike] Stothers at the beginning of the year. I told him that I wanted to be a dominant goalie in this league, and that I wanted to be seen as an All-Star.”
“I think I proved that I can be a consistent starter in this league, and I can do good things,” he added. “It was good to see that I can be that kind of goalie, one who can carry my team when things aren’t going well. I’m happy with the way I played this season.”
So were the Kings.
“He’s gotten better each year,” said Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford. “Last year was his first year getting that opportunity, being thrown into a starting role, and this year, he really ran with it, being the number one guy from the start of the year, right until the end.”
“He was [first] in the league in wins, which is a great feat in the American Hockey League,” added Ranford. “We were hoping Bartosak would battle for a little more time, but he was so good that it was hard not to go back to him. We’re ecstatic with the type of year he had.”
“In the scheme of things, [2013-14] was his biggest step because he went from the ECHL into the American Hockey League. He was behind Martin Jones, and when Jones made the transition to the Kings part of the way through the year, [Berube] took the ball and just ran with it. He played—I think it was 24 straight games, at one point, last year.”
Those who watched the Monarchs in the 2015 Calder Cup Finals might have been just a bit concerned about the Monarchs’ chances in Game 1 when, after they took a 2-1 lead at the 2:23 mark of the third period, they saw Utica’s Cory Conacher tie the game at the 5:24 mark on a shot from outside the right circle—a bad goal allowed by Berube.
“He was along the boards,” said Berube. “He came on the rush, and he kind of delayed a little bit. He finally shot it, and I lost the puck a little bit in the stands, and it went right over my glove.”
“I totally misplayed it,” added Berube. “I didn’t track the puck. It wasn’t a dangerous shot, that’s for sure. I got surprised there.”
“It went off the defenseman’s stick, but that’s not why it went in. I had plenty of time to track it. I just totally misplayed it. It was a bad goal at a bad time. We got lucky that we got away with it.”
Indeed, the Monarchs went on to win the game in overtime, but things were rather dicey until then.
Berube may have been lulled to sleep because his team allowed the Comets just 17 shots on goal in the game.
“If you speak to any goalie, it’s really hard to play if you only get 15-17 shots [in a game],” he noted. “Most of the games in the playoffs, we were under 20 shots, so it was definitely mentally challenging.”
“I dealt with [not seeing a lot of shots] pretty much all season,” he added. “It was something I had to learn [in order] to play. Talking with Kim [Dillabaugh, who handled goaltender development for the Kings and is now the goaltending coach for the Philadelphia Flyers], we had a lot of conversations about how to stay in the game. When there’s a long period without [facing] any shots, I try to analyze the other goalie—see what he’s doing. That way, I’d keep my mind fresh.”
Maintaining his focus in similar situations has been a knock on Berube’s game since he was drafted. But overall, he has made great strides in improving his concentration.
“I know I improved my concentration a lot during games when I’m not facing a lot of shots,” said Berube. “But there’s times when I gave up goals that I shouldn’t have given [up], and I know that. I need to improve that so I can take that next step.”
“Having games where I wasn’t facing many shots, or when there were long [periods] when I didn’t get too many shots, I think I need to improve [in that area],” he added. “It’s not necessarily that I was giving up a goal. Mentally, I think I was drifting a little bit. Then, I’d give up rebounds that I usually don’t give up, or I’d be off, positionally. I need to be sharper. Even though I might not be facing a lot of shots, I need to be sharper.”
Despite allowing that soft goal, Berube was solid in the series, making several big saves on high-quality scoring chances from point-blank range until his injury forced him to become a spectator.
“We’re not a team that gives up a lot of chances, but most of the time, when we do give them [up], I don’t have too much margin for error,” he said. “I was proud of the way the guys played in front of me. Even though I didn’t get too many shots, it was good to be able to stay in the game with those big saves.”
“I think I played well when I had to make the saves,” he added. “I made the big saves at important times, so I think that was the biggest challenge for me—to make those important saves, and I think I did that pretty well.”
Strength, Conditioning And Consistency Are Keys For Berube
Ranford noted that better conditioning would improve Berube’s concentration.
“Part of it, I think, for him, is conditioning, and I think he’s done a much better job, probably the last three years, in getting his conditioning in place,” said Ranford. “Early in his career, coming out of junior, he wasn’t in the shape he needed to be in to be an every day pro player. When you get tired, you lose focus—it’s harder to focus. The fact that he’s a much better conditioned athlete allows him to feel fresh in the net, and that probably reduces those points in a game where you lose focus.”
Of course, strength and conditioning is about more than improving concentration.
“The biggest thing with J.F. is that he’s got to continue to get stronger,” Ranford stressed. “If he’s going to play at the NHL level, he’ll need to get a little bit stronger because he’s not a big guy. It’s one thing to be competing with the guys at the AHL level, because they’re all young kids in their early development stages with a mix of veterans. When you get to the NHL, you’ve got physically strong, seasoned veteran guys. It’s a little more physical and he has to be ready for that.”
As Ranford indicated, Berube has been working on his strength and conditioning.
“I was in really good shape [last season],” Berube noted. “Everything’s going to follow that. You’re going to be more consistent, more focused, [sharper], so if there’s one thing I thought I made good strides in, it’s [strength and conditioning].”
But Berube knows that, as Ranford indicated, that he has more work to do.
“[Strength and conditioning has] always been a main focus for me,” he said. “I want to always keep [myself] in good condition. Last summer and this summer is a little bit shorter than it is for some, but I still have a couple of months to show up at [training] camp in good shape.”
“I’ve been back in the gym for about a week-and-a-half,” he added. “I took about two weeks off, and then went back into the gym. I’m still recovering from my ankle injury, so there’s some stuff I can’t do, but I was getting bored. I’m someone who likes to be active, and be around the guys so it was good to be back in the gym.”
Berube also made great strides in improving his consistency this past season, and he credited Bartosak for helping him.
“I would [say that my biggest challenge last season was] consistency,” said Berube. “It’s hard. There’s a lot of games. I think the biggest thing that helped me out was not having to play three-in-threes.”
AHL teams often play three games in three nights.
“Having Patrik playing most of the Sunday games really helped me to recover and maintain the level I was playing at,” Berube noted.
Ranford took note of Berube’s improved consistency.
“This year, [the number one goaltender position] was his job to keep, and that’s the approach he took,” Ranford observed. “To have a consistent year, from start to finish, was crucial for him, because when you become a starting goalie, you don’t want to have those peaks and valleys. He found a way to keep his game consistent throughout.”
“I don’t think, throughout his career, that he’s had those deep valleys, but he’s always had those little drop-offs,” Ranford added. “But with his hard work, and the detail in his game, it allowed him to be consistent just about every single night. If he did have a bad outing, he was great in the bounce back game, and that’s crucial for a number one guy.”
Given Lombardi’s comment, reported earlier, and the marked improvement in his game, even with the Kings signing Enroth, Berube has a chance to be the Kings’ backup goaltender for the 2015-16 season, even though it seems likely that Enroth will be named the backup goaltender at the start of the season.
“I’m showing up to [training camp to] make the [Kings], for sure,” he emphasized. “I think that’s how every player should approach a training camp. Otherwise, there’s no point in showing up there in September. I’m showing up there to show my best. They’re going to decide where I deserve to be.”
Berube is focused on improving, not on where he’ll end up in October.
“All that matters to me as if I’m improving my game,” he said. “They know what’s best for me, so if they decide to bring me to the [Kings] this season, that means that I’m ready for it. If I’m back in Ontario, it means that’s where I need to be.”
“I know I’m improving my game, year after year,” he added. “I know last year, I took a huge step in my game, so I’m going to show up at camp confident, knowing that I can do good things, so whatever happens, that will be where I need to be and where I deserve to be.”
Berube would prefer, of course, to play with the Kings. But even with the season he had, he knows that he’ll have to win the job over Enroth.
“They’re not going to give it to me,” said Berube. “They’re not going to say that I’m going to be in Ontario (the Kings’ AHL affiliate moves to Ontario, California next season, becoming the new Ontario Reign), and they’re not going to say that I’m going to be with the [Kings]. It’s just something I’m going to find out in October.”
“I would say that I’m on the right path,” added Berube. “I wanted to see myself improving, and that’s what I did. I wanted to get stronger, and I did. There’s a lot of things that I’ve accomplished, but what do I need to do to take the next step? I need to get ever stronger, quicker. I need to be even more consistent—just everything I’m doing [well], just make it even better. That way, I can move my game forward.”
But could it be that Berube road to the NHL might not run through Los Angeles?
“J.F. is going to get an opportunity,” said Ranford. “The thing you have to realize is that there’s different stages in your career that you’ve got to continue to grow and develop. It may not always work out with one organization. You’ve got to play well to open the eyes of other organizations.”
“The one thing about all 23 or 24 players who played in the Calder Cup Finals is that all of their names are on the radar of every other organization, so you’re playing for your team, you’re playing for yourself, but you’re also opening the eyes of other people, and I think that’s what J.F. has come to understand,” added Ranford. “He’s got an opportunity to battle for a spot and open the eyes of other people around the league.”
LEAD PHOTO: Lps Angeles Kings goaltender prospect J.F. Berube (left) and Kim Dillabaugh (right) who handled goaltender development for the Kings (now with the Philadelphia Flyers), shown here during a practice session on May 8, 2014, at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
J.F. Berube (18:38)
Bill Ranford (6:10)
Frozen Royalty’s J.F. Berube Coverage
- 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 Is Taking Full Advantage of Opportunity With Manchester Monarchs
- 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
Frozen Royalty’s 2015 Off-Season LA Kings Prospects Coverage
- LA Kings Rob Blake on Prospect Brian O’Neill: “Not Big…But He Competes At The Level Of The Big Guys”
- LA Kings LW Prospect Michael Mersch Is Powering His Way Towards The NHL
- LA Kings’ Rob Blake On Jordan Weal: “There’s Not A Lot of Players Like That Around”
- From Doubts To Dominating: LA Kings F Prospect Jordan Weal Has Risen To The Top Of The AHL
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