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Berry a real student of the game

by Jen Sharpe || AHL On The Beat Archive

berry-b_200.jpgYou will never catch a hockey player complaining about a lack of advice.

More ice time, sleep, or (let’s face it) money are commonly desired, but advice flows freely – and often loudly – from coaches, parents and fans in the stands at every stage of a player’s career.

But while advice is easy to come by, good advice – the “been there, done that” kind – can be tough to find.

Thankfully for Manitoba Moose players, they don’t have to look very far, especially if assistant coach Brad Berry is around the corner.

An Alberta-born draft pick with NCAA, IHL, AHL and NHL experience, Berry has seen a lot in his 35-plus years in the sport. Whether it’s due to his easy smile or interactive coaching style, there’s something trustworthy and wise about the towering former defenseman.

Like many hockey players, Berry’s earliest hockey memories include long trips, volunteer coaches, and parents involved in every step along the way. When he outgrew the hockey program offered in his tiny hometown of Bashaw, Alta., Berry transferred to a team in Ponoka at the age of 13. Four seasons of 30-mile commutes concluded with a spot on the Sherwood Park Crusaders and move to the big city of Edmonton – a move that would signal the first of many transitions in his career.

“I made that team as a 16-year-old and it was predominantly 19-, 20-year-olds, so that was a different mentality,” he remembers. “I was in a high school with probably 75 people in three grades and then I transferred to Edmonton, where the population of the high school was 1,700 kids.… It was fun.”

A second year in Edmonton with the St. Albert Saints opened up a four-year scholarship with the University of North Dakota in 1983. Though the transition to American college life was significant, Berry says the biggest impact was on his development as a player and person, thanks in large part to Fighting Sioux head coach Gino Gasparini.

“I was a young boy turning into a man and Gino taught me about hockey on the ice and life skills off the ice too: the preparation process, the mentality of being on time all the time, the life skills that you can apply to any situation every day,” Berry says.

After what he calls “an up-and-down playing career” and assistant coaching experience with his alma mater and now the Manitoba Moose, Berry has perfected those skills and takes pleasure in passing them on to younger players.

Gasparini isn’t surprised by the defenceman’s progression.

“I’m not surprised to see him doing as well as he is as a coach at the pro level,” the former coach and current president of the United States Hockey League says. “All good coaches are not only good teachers but also good communicators. I think Brad knows that and has very good people skills, which lends to him having a great career.”

Gasparini isn’t alone in praising Berry’s people skills. According to Moose defenseman Maxime Fortunus, Bubba (as he is affectionately known) is a “really easy going guy. We can talk to him about anything. That just makes us comfortable and I guess that shows on the ice.”

A “real student of the game” according to Gasparini and a great assistant coach according to Manitoba Moose players and staff, Berry is a product of passion, patience, and persistence.

Whether on the ice, behind the bench, in the locker room, or outside the rink, his experience and knowledge is undeniable: When Bubba says “Hey, I’ve been there,” you know that he has, and you know you should listen.