BROSSARD, Que. –
The Los Angeles Kings
have been waiting for some time for the Jonathan Bernier
era to begin in earnest between the pipes, but with the way Jonathan Quick
is playing, the waiting will likely continue for a while longer.
However, Bernier's two years of seasoning in the American Hockey League will be rewarded Wednesday night when the Laval, Que., native gets the start against the team he spent his entire childhood cheering for, the Montreal Canadiens
"I've been watching the Montreal Canadiens
for a long time, so when you're young you always see yourself out there," Bernier, 22, said at the Canadiens suburban practice facility Tuesday. "I was hoping to get drafted by Montreal. It's going to be a great feeling."
The Canadiens never got a chance to take Bernier when the Kings scooped him up with the 11th selection in the 2006 Entry Draft.
Since then Bernier has dominated at every stop, winning the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League championship in 2006-07, and last season being named the AHL's top goaltender with the Manchester Monarchs.
But this is the first time he's been able to secure a full-time job at the NHL level, and Bernier admits he found the road long at times.
"It was frustrating," he said. "I played a few games as a 19-year-old (in 2007-08), and then I spent two years in the AHL. That was a bit hard. They were two long years, but I'm here now and I have no intention of going back."
While Bernier is happy to be taking planes on road trips rather than the buses of the minors, he is adjusting to life as a backup, what with Quick putting up numbers that put him near the top of the League in all the major categories.
"As a young player growing up through junior he was the guy, and he was for us last year in Manchester, and it's an adjustment when you're not playing every day," Kings coach Terry Murray
said. "He understands that. We talked about that at training camp. It's a process he's dealing with and I think it's going to work out OK. He's a pretty solid young man."
Quick played 72 games for the Kings last season, but Wednesday night will already be the seventh time this season he has watched a game from the bench.
Quick sees no problem with the added internal competition.
"It's healthy, not only in hockey but in any work environment you're going to have that sort of competition," he said. "At the same time, we're on the same team and we're rooting for each other when the other is in net. It's really healthy for the team and for the position."
When Murray saw that Montreal was the final stop on the Kings' four-game swing through the Northeast Division, it was a no-brainer that he would give Bernier a start in his hometown -- Quick, who grew up in Connecticut and played college hockey at Massachusetts, got the start in Boston last Saturday.
The start in Montreal isn't only a reward to Bernier -- there's an ulterior motive at play as well.
"It's Montreal, it's home," Murray said. "I've always felt that for a player coming back home, there's always adrenaline, the family is here, there's a lot of emotion in it. Because of who he is, I believe
he's going to respond the right way."
Meanwhile Bernier is trying his best not to think of all those outside factors, considering the Kings could use a win in Montreal after losing four of their previous five games.
"It's going to be a great night," Bernier said. "But I can't put pressure on myself. It's just another game and I just have to focus on details and not really focus on the big picture, that we're in Montreal and I'm playing in front of my family. I just have to take that stuff out of it."
That may not be such an easy task, considering Bernier expects to have upwards of 70 friends and family in the stands at the Bell Centre on Wednesday night.
But don't worry, Bernier won't be taking too big a hit in the pocketbook.
"Oh no," he said. "I'm not paying for all those tickets."
For a rookie, that's a pretty heady move.