After squandering a 2-0 lead to the tenacious University of Alberta Golden Bears, the Oilers rookies found themselves in a tough situation heading in the third period of Monday night’s annual on-campus pre-season game. But only 36 seconds into the final frame, a towering winger on an Oilers try-out scored the shorthanded game-winner for the visitors.
That player was Marc-Andre Bernier, and if this season was like the past five, his name would have appeared on the Vancouver Canucks rookie roster Tuesday night in Camrose
Vancouver’s second-round pick in the 2003 draft, Bernier was a regular at Canucks rookie camp for the past five seasons. But this summer, the Canucks opted not to re-sign the Laval, Quebec native and Bernier was left without a contract for the first time in his pro career.
Though the situation wasn’t ideal, Bernier is making the most of it.
“My goal is to play hard every practice and every game,” he says. “I’ve got a contract with Springfield, so my big goal is to have a good year in the AHL and prove to the organization that I can have an NHL contract.”
Tuesday's game vs. the Canucks rookies saw Bernier battle many of his former camp-mates and teammates for the first time. Canucks prospects Patrick Coulombe, Julien Ellis, Daniel Rahimi, Jordie Benn, and Tyler Matheson all played with Bernier in Victoria (ECHL) last season and, with the exception of Rahimi, all dressed for the game in Camrose.
“It’s not a big test for me, but I want to show them what I can do and show them that if I get a chance, I can play hard,” he said before the game. ““I think it’s going to be huge. It’s going to be fun.”
Fun was also on the agenda Monday night vs. the Bears. Though Bernier says he wasn’t too nervous prior to game-time, he admits to being a bit rusty following opening puck drop.
“I didn’t know what to expect. The first half of the game was more to get used to the beat of playing a hockey game, and I thought we did pretty well. I am one of the oldest guys here, so I can’t be too nervous,” the 23-year-old says.
As for Monday’s goal, Bernier credits a “lucky break” even though he’s coming off his most productive pro season – 21 goals and 48 points in 59 games with Victoria, good for fourth on the club’s leaderboard.
“It was on the PK and I got a loose puck, or a turnover, at the blue line,” he recalls. “I saw the 2-on-1 coming so I just kept skating to the goalie and saw a couple holes and just shot it there.”
Later in the period, Bernier scored again but the goal was waved off due to an interference penalty. “I never saw the penalty, so the boys just told me ‘bad luck,’” he says with a smile.Bad luck may have cost him that second goal, but with a little good luck and more good play, Bernier just might earn a whole lot more than an extra pre-season point this fall.