When the lights finally came on, Kings rookie goaltender Jonathan Bernier
was lights out.
After sitting through a 16-minute delay to the start of his NHL debut after the lights failed to turn completely on following the National Anthems, the Kings’ 19-year old net minder made 26 saves to earn his first NHL victory in the Kings season-opening 4-1 win over the Ducks in London, England.
“I wasn’t nervous,” Bernier said of the delay. “It is the same game. I just kept my focus. It was a long time to wait but I came out strong in the first period.”
Bernier was just the third teenage goaltender to make a start wearing a Kings sweater.
Prior to tonight, the only two teenage goaltenders to do so were Jamie Storr, who started for the Kings in net at 19 years, 27 days in a 4-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on Jan. 24 1995 and Mark Fitzpatrick, who started on Nov. 6, 1988, winning 5-3 at the age of 19 years, 359 days.
“If you watch his demeanor around the room and around training camp, he is a guy that is ready to play in the NHL,” captain Rob Blake said of Bernier. “He is not a junior kid anymore and he understands that. He has been our best goalie and tonight was no different.”
Bernier had a shut out until the 54th minute, when Bobby Ryan scored on a rebound past Bernier to cut the lead to 3-1.
Ironically, it was also Ryan’s first NHL goal.
Bernier also may have saved a goal in the last two minutes of the game, making a sprawling save to his stick side on Corey Perry on a cross-ice pass on a Ducks power play, when the game was still very much in question.
Bernier, who at just 19 years, 53 days old as of Saturday, was the youngest opening day goalie in Kings history and was the second youngest ever to make a start in net for the Kings. The previous youngest opening night goaltender was Gary Laskoske, he of 23 years, 122 days, starting for the Kings on Oct. 6, 1982 in a 3-3 draw with the Vancouver Canucks.
“I do not think you could expect a better game from a 19-year old goaltender,” head coach Marc Crawford said. “There was a lot of pressure tonight and he looked like a solid, solid goaltender. Not a lot of shots bounced off of him and he made a couple of great saves.”
Still, Bernier downplays the performance and what it means for his standing on the club’s depth chart.
“I just take it day-by-day,” Bernier said. “We will see in the future. I am happy with what I did tonight.”
Entering camp, Bernier was one of four goaltenders that Kings management evaluated with incumbent Dan Cloutier, the AHL Goaltender of the Year Jason LaBarbera and new comer J.S. Aubin all battling for time in the crease.
Cloutier is down at Manchester, Aubin was a healthy scratch tonight and LaBarbera is expected to start tomorrow.
And Bernier, Los Angeles' 1st round choice, 11th overall, in 2006, is 1-0 with a 1.00 GAA and a .963SV% after finishing the preseason with a 1-1-0 record, a 2.44 GAA and a .921 SV%.
“I came to camp and I was ready for it and I just focus hard every practice and every game and try to get better.”
Kings management faces a tough decision, as he can play nine games with the Kings and still be returned to juniors. After that, he has to remain a Kings as Bernier is too young to play in the AHL.
“I am in a good organization and they will take good care of me.”