I think the last two or three years, I played really, really well in Switzerland, also with the national team so now I think I can take the next step. - Reto Berra
CALGARY, AB -- It’s probably best to describe Reto Berra as a rambunctious toddler growing up in the Swiss town of Bulach, which has a population of about 17,500 people.
As a way to help burn off his extra energy, his mother came up with a solution – find him a sport to play.
Now hockey was a small niche sport in Switzerland, with no one in his extended family ever lacing up the skates and picking up the stick before.
But when he was three-years-old, his mother signed him up for hockey.
“I was a child that was moving a lot at home,” Berra told CalgaryFlames.com after the first on-ice session of Flames prospect development camp. “No one in my family was playing hockey, but my mother decided lets go throw him on the ice and he can do everything he was doing at home.”
Berra fell in love with the sport, and when he was about 11-years-old, he decided to be a full-time goaltender.
“Every day I wasn’t on the ice with the team, I would be on the ice with friends,” Berra said. “It was a big love to the sport.”
As his game developed, he decided to stay in his home country.
After playing with the EHC Bulach youth team, he got his first taste of international hockey with Team Switzerland at the 2005 IIHF U18 World Hockey Championships.
He followed it up as the starter for the Swiss at the 2006 IIHF U20 World Junior Hockey Championship where he had a 2.34 GAA and .910 save percentage in six games.
It was the following that performance that caught the attention of the St. Louis Blues, who picked the 6-foot-4, 200 pound netminder in the 4th round (106th overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
“I was really honoured to be drafted, especially as a Swiss guy and there was not a lot of guys before me who were drafted before me, so I was really happy,” Berra said, reminiscing on the event.
Besides a pair of summer camp invites from the Blues, Berra continued to play in his own backyard, becoming one of the best goalies in the Swiss League.
He was the backup goalie for a few different teams in the Swiss A League – winning the Swiss A League title with HC Davos in 2009 -- before he became a starter with the EHC Biel-Bienne in 2009-10. Since then, he’s developed into one of the top goalies in Swiss hockey circles.
In 2011-12, he was awarded the Swiss A League Goalie of the Year after a season where he posted a 2.44 GAA and .916 save percentage in 49 games. He also spent 14 games with the Swiss National Team that year, including four matches at the 2012 IIHF World Hockey Championship.
It was during last season that Berra received word he’d been apart of a blockbuster trade, being sent from the Blues along with defenceman Mark Cundari and a first round draft pick for defenceman Jay Bouwmeester.
It was finally time to come to North America.
“After I was drafted, I had a couple of tough years in Switzerland,” Berra said, who announced a few weeks before the trade he would come across the ocean. “I think the last two or three years, I played really, really well in Switzerland, also with the national team so now I think I can take the next step.”
When it was announced Berra was involved in the trade, questions flew about who this mysterious goalie was.
General manager Jay Feaster called him one of the best goalies not in the NHL. And at the 2013 IIHF World Hockey Championship, Berra backed up the title.
Splitting time with former NHLer Martin Gerber, Berra posted a 1.00 GAA and 0.9672 save % in four games.
More importantly, Team Switzerland went on a Cinderalla-esque run, knocking off Sweden, Canada, Czech Republic, Slovakia and the United States on way to a berth in the Gold Medal game. Unfortunately, the run came to an end in a rematch against Sweden, still earning Berra a silver medal.
“The trade and everything had happened before the Worlds so I could impress maybe a couple of people who don’t know who Reto Berra is,” he said.
Fans in Switzerland took notice of the accomplishments, with hockey growing in popularity in the country best known for its chocolate.
“After winning silver at the Worlds, it’s getting more and more popular,” Berra said. “Also more and more players are coming over to play in the NHL. I think it’s getting better and better.”
Berra officially signed with the Flames on July 5th, and will head to training camp competing against Joey MacDonald and Karri Ramo for playing time once the season opens.