My story begins at age three in Laval, Quebec....
The ice rink was right by my house and I just started skating with basically a chair on the ice. It was the same ice rink that is featured in the movie “The Chief.”
Early on it was my family that led me to the ice, though my brother was initially into skiing. When he was five years old instead of getting new equipment for skiing he asked for hockey equipment. Because of that, I then started playing hockey too.
Initially I was actually a pretty good skater. I started as a defenseman but around 5 or 6 years old I switched to become a goalie. Two years earlier I started playing organized hockey. It was in my hometown and it was just a little group of kids who were all the same age.
When it came to sports as a kid, it was pretty much always hockey for me. I remember one summer I played roller hockey in a real league but other than that it was ice hockey. My parents were also really into boating so the whole summertime we would take a vacation, so I never really played hockey all 12 months of the year.
|Jonathan Bernier got the start on the road against his hometown Montreal Canadiens on November 24. |
Growing up in Laval, the Montreal Canadiens played about 30 miles away. That’s the team I watched growing up and I guess I still watch now. I never had any encounters with any of those guys as a kid. I wish someone would have come to Laval for a clinic or appearance, so I keep that in the back of my mind now. It is important to be involved in and around the city you play in.
Actually going to Canadiens games were a real treat. I would go about once or twice a year. My mom always had tickets but she had her own company so she was most the time giving those tickets away. I think it was because it was so difficult to get into the city of Montreal with all the traffic. When a 30 minute drive can take two hours, my parents wouldn’t be too pleased about that.
Like in Montreal hockey in Laval is the number one sport there. I think they’ve done a tremendous job back home when it comes to youth hockey over the years. We have school education with hockey. They’ve done a really good job to get the players at their youngest age.
Laval is also a big city. I think we have more than 500,000 people who live there. It’s a really nice city with a great downtown. It’s a pretty big island so we have water everywhere. It’s really nice.
Going back to my youth hockey, the decision to switch from defenseman to goalie was really my brother’s fault. He needed a goalie all the time to shoot on and I guess I was the guy who was going in net on the street. I remember one hockey game and our goalie was missing. They asked me if I wanted to go in and I tried and I just kept playing that position.
Travel hockey for me also started at a young age. We must have been around 8 or 9 when we started traveling as a team. It’s a lot of work for the parents but I think it pays off in the end. We would usually go by car and I think the farthest city we would go to was Gatineau. That is about a 90-minute drive.
|Bernier is pictured here as a member of the Lewiston MAINEiacs of the QMJHL. |
As my hockey career was going along I was pretty young still when I began to see a future in hockey for myself. I have always been a dreamer and I have always seen myself playing at the NHL level so I think those thoughts started at a pretty young age.
Playing Junior hockey was also a goal and that became reality for me when I got drafted at 15 and I started playing at 16. That was also the next biggest step to fulfilling my NHL dream. We had a great team there and that was a big part of my success over there.
I played junior hockey some five hours from home. My parents were coming by about once a month and it wasn’t too bad. When you leave home at 15 or 16 years of age it’s a tough decision. At the same time it is those types of tough decisions that help you make it.
In juniors I started as the second goalie. Then the coach and GM told me that I would be the number one goalie when I was 17. So I knew if I had a pretty solid year at age 17 being drafted by an NHL team would be possible. Then you see all those lists of projections and you note where you’re standing and stuff like that. Before I was drafted by the Kings I was also playing for Team Canada in a number of tournaments. I played in all the Under 17, Under 18 tournaments. I won one gold medal with the Under 18s and one gold medal with Under 20s.
|Bernier on draft day 2006. |
When it came time to be drafted, the only thing I remember is that the day flew by. I remember taking all the pictures backstage but when I was on the stage it seemed like it took a second. Overall it was a great moment and I’m always going to remember it for sure.
After I was drafted by L.A. it took a year and four months until I first played in the NHL. After I was drafted I played a full year in Juniors and that year we won the Memorial Cup. Then I was late to Kings training camp that year because I played in the Canada-Russia series so I had a lot of travel and had the timing already when I came here. It’s not like when you’re starting at the bottom so I already felt good about myself. I came here to camp and it had already started. It kind of went really fast.
My first game was in London, England, and it was very special. The guys were great in the room leading up to the game. They fed me with good and positive information regarding how the players on the other team perform. Right before that game, the lights went out and we had to sit for 10 or 15 minutes so I think that kind of cooled down the thing for me, and then I got on the ice and I felt good.