by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.
Manchester Monarchs rookie Jonathan Bernier got another chance to practice one of a goalie’s most important attributes last week.
He wasn’t happy about it, and would have rather skipped over a repeat of this particular life lesson. But that wasn’t possible. So there was the prized prospect, again honing his skill of selective amnesia.
Just a few hours earlier, Bernier had been yanked in a 5-2 loss to Portland. The crucial goal was one Bernier virtually gift-wrapped for the Pirates, off a turnover he committed that led to an-empty net goal.
"If I win or lose, I think about my game. The next morning, it’s over," he said. "I turn the page. If you play a lot of games as a No. 1, you can’t put your highs too high or your lows too low."
The thing about that philosophy, though, is you first have to establish yourself as a No. 1 before you can let that frustration slide off your back. Bernier’s numbers suggest that type of future — a 2.49 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage. But his 19-20-3 record reflects a grab bag of off and on performances.
In separate streaks this season, Bernier, 20, has won four straight, dropped seven of eight, won four in a row, lost eight of 10 and won six straight. That’s an inconsistency expected of young goalies, although harder to swallow from netminders taken No. 11 overall, as Bernier was by the Kings in the 2006 draft.
"If you want to be negative and worry about things, you will be frustrated on the ice. I’m working on it, still learning," Bernier said. "That’s why I guess I’m still down here. They (Los Angeles) want me to learn a lot of stuff."
A good start is that Bernier is once again standing tall. That’s a dramatic improvement from what Monarchs coach Mark Morris saw in December.
Kings goalie Erik Ersberg was hurt, and instead of promoting Bernier, Los Angeles tapped Monarchs teammate Jonathan Quick. When Ersberg returned, the Kings traded Jason LaBarbera and kept Quick up top. Morris said he could see the hopes of Bernier, who envisioned himself as the next in line, visibly sag.
"You could see it in his body language. He was down emotionally," Morris said. "It took him a little while to digest he needed to prove himself here. I think some of the young players have a difficult time dealing with the disappointment."
Bernier vividly remembers the start of that funk. His team was in Manitoba, and when he showed up for the morning skate he asked where Quick was. That night, Bernier gave up four goals on 18 shots in a loss to the Moose.
"I admit that was really disappointing," he said of the whole scenario. "I had a rough time swallowing that. At one point, I had to wake up. I was worrying too much about other things I should not (have)."
It’s hard to blame Bernier for letting frustration temporarily swallow him up. He’d been battling that emotion like a knuckleball shot from the blue line for almost a season.
At the 2008 World Juniors, Bernier was a contributor on Canada’s gold medal-winning team. But the star-struck gazes deservedly landed on starting netminder Steve Mason, who basically stole the title for his country. Mason, whom Bernier considers his athletic peer, is now skyrocketing out of this hemisphere as a rookie for Columbus.
"I would lie to you if I said nobody looks at other players (for comparisons)," Bernier said. "He’s having a great season. But I look at myself, say I’m pretty sure I’m a comparable goalie. Those are all the things you can’t control, but you can’t let it affect you as a goalie."
Bernier admits he planned on breathing the same NHL air as Mason this season. Bernier opened last year with a brief trial in Los Angeles before returning to juniors. This season, Bernier didn’t get any minutes as a King before the organization decided he needed to start as a Monarch instead.
For most of Bernier’s career, the goaltending sun revolved around him. Now, he was as easy to overlook as a single flake in a pile of ice shavings. He talked with Los Angeles Assistant General Manager Ron Hextall, who told him to calm down and focus.
"In my career, I never had disappointing things. I always had the net pretty easy," Bernier said.
Morris senses that Bernier has a better appreciation of what it takes to earn it now. He ended February and began March with six-straight wins. Although he then dropped three in a row, Morris partially blamed his team’s struggling offense for putting too much pressure on the goaltending.
"It’s great to see the kid with the sparkle in his eye and a jump in his step again," Morris said. "He’s improved his concentration. His work ethic is very noticeable. Everybody matures at a different rate. There’s no timetable on when guys figure it out. Jonathan has a lot of hockey left in him."
Bernier is more interested in making sure the Monarchs have more hockey left in their season, an ambition that will allow him the chance to turn some of his recent smudges in a shine.
"A lot of things happened this year that greatly affected my game. But they all make me stronger," Bernier said. "That’s what you’re looking for. It’s the big picture. I’m pretty sure my time is going to come. When my time comes, you just have to take your opportunity."