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The Same...But Different

Friday, 10.30.2009 / 3:49 AM / Prospects
By Kim Mueller
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The Same...But Different
Jonathan Bernier is playing very well at Manchester and could be showing his face in LA at some point.
Not much has changed over the last six months in Manchester as far as the Monarchs locker room is concerned. The weight room looks the same, the coaches’ offices have not changed and the stalls in the locker room rest in the same positions as when the players cleaned them out on April 13, 2009. We all know that name plates change as new players come and old players depart for new adventures but one name plate has stayed in the same precise position it was in at the end of the 2008-09 season. Goaltender Jonathan Bernier’s stall may look exactly the same as it did just a short time ago, but it is as if a new player is walking through those doors at the Verizon Wireless Arena.

After making his professional debut with the Los Angeles Kings over in London with a 4-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on September 29, 2007, the 19-year-old rookie found himself assigned back to his Junior team, the Lewiston Maniacs, following a three-game losing streak in the NHL. It was a tough adjustment for the young goaltender but Bernier eventually helped guide his team to the Memorial Cup and came into the 2008 Kings camp expecting to make the team. He found himself injured in camp and was surprised to be assigned to Manchester once he became healthy.

"Last year, I think I was just so upset that I just got down on my game and it affected my game" explained Bernier. "I dwelled on the fact that it could have been me instead of (Jonathan) Quick in LA and I regret that. This year, I don’t want to waste time. I want to start playing right now which is what I’m doing. The team is playing great and that’s why we’re 7-2-0."

Bernier struggled with consistency in his game with the Monarchs during the 2008-09 season but headed into the Kings 2009 Training Camp ready to play in the NHL. After performing very well at camp, he once again found himself assigned to Manchester this season. So what makes this year different from last year? To begin with, Bernier’s record is 5-1-0 compared to last season’s 3-1-2 after six games but the biggest difference is his attitude.

"I think I’m just more mature," said Bernier. "I know how to handle it. I’ve learned that you can’t worry about where you play; you just play wherever you are."

In his second year with the Monarchs, Bernier is currently ranked third in the American Hockey League with a save percentage of .963 and he sits in fourth place with goals-against-average of 1.34. His five wins are tied for second in the league and his two shutouts are tied for first. Bernier still dreams about playing in the NHL and he knows that dream will come true.

"If it’s not this year, it will be one day," Bernier said. "If I keep doing the same thing, it can only be good for me. You’re goal is to be as quick as possible (getting to) the NHL. I kind of tasted it when I was 19 so that’s why last year I was really upset. I think I was more upset because I didn’t get a chance to prove myself last year because I was hurt in training camp but this year, I felt great in the game and knew I could play at this level."

The only other season that the Monarchs have started out this well was during the lockout in 2004-05 when the team won 19 of their first 20 games. The excitement of having a record of 7-2-0-0 in their first nine games, including an undefeated record of 4-0 at home, can be felt the moment you walk into the Verizon Wireless Arena on a game night. In the three short weeks since the season started, the team has visibly bonded together.

Bernier explains the mood in the locker, "I’d say we are a really tight group. A lot of young guys but it’s always easy to say that we have a tight group when you win. When you start losing, that’s really how you see if the room is tight and you still want to be around each other. Right now everything is great; everyone wants to play for each other and that’s why we’re on a winning streak."

With experience comes confidence in your abilities and in your teammates. The Monarchs are a young team but many players are returning from last season.

"You learn every year," said Bernier. "I feel way more comfortable in net, and being a veteran here, you feel like you belong here. That’s all about confidence. Your first year, you’re never as confident as your second, third, fourth year."

Bernier’s confidence boost this season shows in both his on-ice performance and off-ice personality. It’s not an air of cockiness but you can tell he feels more comfortable in his own skin and he knows what he needs to do to get to the next level. He also credits his current success with the players that skate in front of him every night.

"(Three shutouts in four nights) is pretty amazing," exclaimed Bernier. "I think we had some good saves but we really have to give credit to the guys in front of us. They didn’t give up any big 2-on-1’s or breakaways, big scoring chances, that’s credit for them. They deserve those shutouts too."

The Monarchs are approaching the end of their first month playing in the 2009-10 season and, like the Kings, they have the playoffs in mind. Their current record of 7-2-0-0 and 14 points lead the AHL’s Atlantic Division. The home of the Monarchs remains the same as it has been for the last eight years but many familiar faces have returned with new attitudes and outlooks on their game – including that of Jonathan Bernier.