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by Erin Pollina / Buffalo Sabres
Steve Bernier (Photo: Getty Images)
Steve Bernier hadn’t even left the airport when he realized he was already happy in his new town.

After learning he was traded to the Sabres from the San Jose Sharks, the forward departed for Buffalo Monday night to make it in time for his first game in blue and gold on Tuesday.

Bernier was pleasantly surprised upon his arrival as fans gathered at the Buffalo International Airport to welcome him to the Queen City.

“It’s way different in San Jose, but I enjoy that,” Bernier said of the attention. “It’s fun to see the fans behind the Sabres and it’s just going to help… and it should.

“This is a real hockey city and I’m excited to be here.”

Also greeting the Quebec City native is a face in Jason Pominville.

Bernier said he played against Pominville in juniors when he was a member of the QMJHL’s Moncton Wildcats. There he totaled 151 goals and 313 points in four seasons, and was named to the Second All-Star Team twice.

“[Knowing some teammates] is going to help me to know the city a little bit more and to help me practice,” Bernier said. “It’s going to be easier for me with them to know what the drill is.”

The 22-year-old winger has 23 points (13+10) in 59 games for the Sharks this season.

“He’s a guy that has some life in him, he’s happy to be here and excited to be apart of our team,” said head coach Lindy Ruff. “I’m curious to see how it’s going to go.”

In any case, Bernier is ready for the opportunity.

“The only thing I want to do is what I’m supposed to do on the ice; finish my hits, be in front of the net… just have fun play there and have fun with the guys,” Bernier said. “That’s my goal and that’s what I’m going to do.

“We’ve got great guys here and it’s going to be fun to know them. I’m pretty sure it’s going to take less than a week and I’m going to know every name.”

Perhaps the only name Bernier will struggle with is his own.

Dubbed “Big Bear” in San Jose, he was stumped at how the nickname was derived.

“That’s a good question,” Bernier laughed. “Sometimes somebody says that after you play a good game and it becomes your nickname. In San Jose, that was it.”

Bernier is expected to make his debut with the Sabres tonight at 7 p.m. at HSBC Arena as Buffalo takes on the Predators.

“It’s a new beginning and I’m going to do my best to help the Sabres make the playoffs,” he said.

“I’m very happy here.”
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