Players were, understandably, not in the most festive of moods with their season having just come to a hasty end.
There wasn’t much cheerfulness from GM Mike Gillis or coach Alain Vigneault a day later when they faced the media one last time this season, but something they announced caused one Canucks forward to swing his frown upside down.
Gillis and Vigneault made it public that Steve Bernier had been re-signed to a two-year deal that will keep him in Vancouver until the conclusion of the 2010-11 season.
“It’s unbelievable for me,” said Bernier, who was traded to Vancouver from Buffalo this past off-season.
“With a one year contract you never know what can happen; now I’ve got two years. But two years doesn’t mean anything if you don’t work hard, if you don’t show what you can do on the ice, so that’s the next step and I’m very excited to do it.”
From dreading the start of summer, to giddily awaiting its arrival, Bernier seems to be a man on a mission heading into the off-season and he’ll have to be with everything the Canucks have in store for the 24-year-old.
In addition to a tailored workout program and ice time with a stride and skating coach, Bernier will have a nutritionist who will ensure that he comes to training camp “a little bit leaner and a little bit better prepared,” according to Gillis.
This is all welcome news to Bernier, the rugged recipient of the Fred J. Hume Award for being the Canucks “Unsung Hero” during the regular season. As he proved time and time again throughout the year, and reinforced in the playoffs, he’s as hard-working as players come and he knows that if he bears down and grunts his way through an exacting summer, the rewards will be plentiful.
“It’s going to be a fun summer,” Bernier grinned. “I’ve always been working on those things this past year, but I think this summer is going to be way more tough. I’m going to be working on the skating, I’m going to watch what I eat, so it’s going to be a tough summer, but at the same time it’s for a good reason.”
One of Bernier’s main focuses will be capitalizing on scoring chances from in front of the net. More times than not this season he found himself in prime position to score, only to whiff on the puck, shoot it wide or simply hit the netminder.
That plagued him all year, but little by little he improved and that growth was evident in the playoffs. He scored three game-winning goals from all up in the goalie’s grill (he was only credited with two); the same way he potted many of his 15 goals this season, which matched a career-high.
“I missed a lot of scoring chances this year and one thing that we talked about in those meetings was trying to work all summer on those chances,” Bernier said.
“It’s something that if you do it often and you do it every day, it’s going to get into your head and in a game it’s going to be way easier to make those chances so that’s what I’m going to try to do this summer.”
Added Gillis, “We’re going to put him in a position where he is repeating and repeating and repeating game-like situations.
“We are designing a program with him and we are hoping that he’ll be able to relax and capitalize on those chances. He gets there, he hits hard, he’s a really good young guy who wants to improve; we’re really pleased that we got him signed.”
Bernier set new career marks for assists with 17 and points at 32 and led the Canucks in hits with 167, including playoffs, and he believes that his game is maturing enough that he’s ready to be a consistent threat on one of Vancouver’s top two lines.
“I can be a top six player. There’s going to be a lot of working involved, but I’m very ready to do that work and try as hard as possible to make it.”
Perhaps the best part of re-signing with the Canucks for Bernier is that a team is finally showing some confidence in the workhorse.
The Moncton Wildcats brute was drafted 16th overall by San Jose in 2003 and he appeared in 182 games over two and a half seasons before the Sharks shipped him to the Sabres midway through the 2007-08 season.
Bernier then became a Canuck, an upward move he was very approving of, but the head games of why no one wanted him were weighing heavy on the Quebec product.
“It’s been a two tough years,” admitted Bernier. “I got traded twice in one year so for sure that was not planned…but now everything happens for something and right now it’s something good.
“It’s only good if you try to work hard and you try to improve and for me, I just don’t want to lie back. I want to improve as much as possible and help our team to win.”