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by Erin Pollina / Buffalo Sabres
Steve Bernier (Photo: Getty Images)
Big Bear has big plans for the summer.

Finding a place, settling into Buffalo and finally moving the last of his luggage out of San Jose all top the 23-year-old’s list of things to do.

Of course, more important than “seeing what Buffalo has to offer,” Steve Bernier also wants to focus on improving what he can provide for his new team.

“I’m going to work on my footwork, that’s the main thing,” he said.

But one of the few things that the “Bear” does not have to worry about this busy offseason is losing some of the stature that has essentially led to his nickname.

Standing at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, Bernier’s level of conditioning was identified as an area of concern from critics, but according head coach Lindy Ruff it couldn’t be further from the truth.

“He’s a young player that needs a lot of direction but he’s not an out of shape player,” Ruff said. “What he needs- what you can identify in a lot of young players- as a big man is a little bit more quickness.”

For Bernier, that wasn’t always the case.

As a member of the QMJHL Moncton Wildcats, his training was called into question as he entered the NHL draft in 2003.

Although the winger scored 101 points (49+52) for the Wildcats that season, scouts felt he needed to lose weight to become a better skater.

In response, after being selected by the Sharks 16th overall, Bernier did just that, “putting himself on a new fitness regime and losing ten pounds of body fat,” according to Moncton’s Web site.

That dedication, according to Ruff, has continued throughout his professional career. 

“He is as in as good a shape physically as any player that has walked into our training room,” Ruff said. “We have had players in the past that we have told have to lose 15, 16 pounds to get into elite shape and that’s a long way to go. Steve is very lean… he’s an elite athlete when it comes to conditioning.”

Ruff just wants Bernier's focus to be speed, with and without the puck.  Skating lessons and off-ice cross-training will be the "Bear's" meat and potatoes for the next six months.

“I’m going to take a little bit of a break, I’m going to start training maybe in May,” Bernier said. “Hopefully everything will go well for me and I can improve to be better for the Buffalo Sabres next year.

“I was here for 16 games and for those games I played hard, I did the best I could and hopefully that was enough,” he continued. “I’m sad to leave Buffalo for the offseason but I will try to get ready for next year with the Sabres.”
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