LONDON - It wasn't until Marc Crawford pulled him aside after dinner on Friday night that Jonathan Bernier realized what seemed so improbable just three weeks ago. He really, really was in the big show.
The 19-year-old goalie was told by the Los Angeles Kings head coach he was starting the season opener against the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks, the first-ever regular season game played in Europe no less.
"I wasn't nervous, it's the same game," Bernier said after backstopping the Kings to a 4-1 win over the Ducks. "It's a great experience. There was a great crowd here tonight in London."
Bernier showed nerves of steel in the midst of an electric atmosphere at the 02 Arena, stopping 26 of 27 Ducks shots.
"I don't think you could have expected a better game from a 19-year-old goaltender," said Crawford.
Bernier was two years old when Kings captain Rob Blake played his first NHL season but the veteran defenceman credited the young goalie with instilling the rest of the team with confidence.
"It's pretty amazing," said Blake. "At 19 years old, the way he plays is very calm. He just stands in there, he doesn't move too much, he seems to swallow those pucks. They got that goal and started coming at us pretty good and he smothered two or three pucks and you could see our bench calm down."
Mike Cammalleri had two goals while Blake and Michael Handzus added single tallies for the Kings, who got three power-play goals on eight chances.
"Our inability to stay out of the box obviously killed us today," said Ducks captain Chris Pronger. "You're going to lose a fair amount of games if you take that amount of penalties."
The two clubs meet again Sunday at the new 02 Arena.
Bobby Ryan scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game for Anaheim. But this was a Ducks squad missing several key faces from last year's Cup side. Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne remaining undecided on their playing futures while goalie J.S. Giguere and key checking forward Samuel Pahlsson continue to recover from sport hernia surgeries.
The first-ever regular-season game played in Europe was 16 minutes delayed because of a lights malfunction. It didn't seem to bother the fans, who got the wave going during the delay, dancing and singing while the music blared.
"It felt like a North American crowd, it really did," said Cammalleri. "They were even doing the wave."
It was a mixed crowd - clearly some ex-pats from Canada on hand as well as some curious locals. The NHL's 30 teams were well-represented in the stands with jerseys from almost every club worn.
"We had a lot of time to look around at the start when they were trying to get the lights to work so I tried to soak it all in," said Crawford. "You saw all the different jerseys in the crowd, the Kings fans, the Ducks fans, the fans from Slovakia. I saw a lot of them - they're the ones in the beer sections, I'm sure about that. It was a good atmosphere."
The sellout crowd of 17,551 didn't get treated to a classic, however, the hockey at times raggedy and sloppy, more representative of a pre-season game than the real thing.
Bernier was the surprise starter over Jason LaBarbera, although Crawford hinted the latter might get the start Sunday. Tough to beat what Bernier did Saturday. He was solid in the first period during a 5-on-3 power play for the Ducks and made his best save early in the third period, denying Corey Perry on a breakaway.
"We're all really excited about the way he played," Cammalleri said of the rookie goalie. "After the game I went over to congratulate him. he looked like he was in a daze."
Bernier doesn't have any family or friends on the trip. After all, who really thought he'd break camp with the team? But he made sure Friday night to e-mail his parents in Laval, Que., and they were ecstatic if not in disbelief.
"They're a big part of this," Bernier said. "They were the ones who got up early and took me to practice when I was younger. I'm happy for them."
Bernier's return to junior, which seemed certain before camp, will at the very least be delayed a few weeks. And if he keeps playing like he did in his opener, the Kings may keep him around all year.
The Kings scored the first goal of the 2007-08 season on a 5-on-3 power play, Cammalleri's one-timer from the point beating a screened Ilya Bryzgalov at 8:35 of the first period.
Blake made it 2-0 on another Kings power play at 10:15 of the second period, shovelling a loose back behind Bryzgalov after the Ducks goalie stopped a one-time blast from Anze Kopitar.
Cammalleri's second goal gave the Kings an insurmountable 3-0 lead, deflecting Tom Preissing's point shot on another Kings power play. Heck of a start to the season for last season's Kings scoring leader.
"I love London. It was good to us tonight," said Cammalleri.
Ryan finally put the Ducks on the board at 13:09 of the third period, backhanding a rebound from Pronger's point shot behind Bernier.
"For a guy like me to stay in the lineup every night you have to go out and produce," said Ryan. "There's certainly things I needed to do better tonight, scoring the goal helps but I'm also looked at for overall play."
Handzus added an shorter-handed goal into an empty net with 26 seconds left.
Notes: Apparently the folks at 02 Arena forgot which country supplies the majority of NHL players. Only the British and American national anthems were sung before the game. Oops. ... Bernier wasn't the only King making his NHL debut. Forward Brady Murray, son of St. Louis head coach Andy Murray, was also skating in his first NHL game. He played in Switzerland the last two years ... Ducks blue-liner Mathieu Schneider (ankle) didn't make the trip ... The first hint that Kings owner Philip F. Anschutz built the 02 Arena comes in the colour of the seats - purplish blue, same as the Staples Center in Los Angeles. In fact, the Staples Center and 02 Arena look very alike on the inside. The P.A. announcer, David Courtney, was also from the same from Kings games at the Staples Center ... IIHF president Rene Fasel was in attendance, watching the game with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.