Few prospects whose point production drops three straight seasons have their stock go up, but that’s exactly what happened with San Jose Sharks prospect right winger Steve Bernier. Taken by the Sharks with the 16th overall selection of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, after trading a package of picks to the Boston Bruins for the pick, Bernier scored 49 goals and added 52 assists in 71 regular season games with the Moncton Wildcats. After missing much of the 2003 QMJHL playoffs due to injury, Bernier’s already questionable conditioning dropped further, creating questions before the draft about the 6’2, 239-pound power forward.
Bernier turned his embarrassing experience at the NHL Pre-Draft Testing in Toronto into motivation to improve his conditioning, and now plays at trimmer 230 pounds, trading much of his baby fat for muscle the past 30 months. A gifted goal scorer at the Quebec Midget AAA level and early in his QMJHL career, Bernier became a more multi-dimensional player his remaining two seasons with Moncton. Trading defensive effort for production, Bernier’s point totals dropped to 82 in 2003-04 and 71 in 2004-05, barely over a point per game. However, his 19 points in 12 playoff games sealed his status at the Wildcats Team MVP.
Twenty-third in QMJHL scoring last season, Bernier is currently fifth in AHL rookie scoring and leads the Cleveland Barons with 18 goals and 20 assists in 41 games. The 20-year-old also played a five-game stint with San Jose in November, scoring his first NHL goal against the Dallas Stars Nov. 12 at home in San Jose.
Hockey’s Future recently caught up with Bernier and discussed the success of 2005-06, the frustrations of being left off Team Canada, the benefits of conditioning, and his memories from the QMJHL and Midget AAA.
HF: You’re currently among the leaders in AHL rookie scoring, how would you say your season is going so far?
SB: My season so far is going pretty good. I put numbers on the board most of the time, but I need to be more consistent. I think that’s what I have to improve the most.
HF: What’s it been like playing with Josh Hennessy and Pat Rissmiller lately?
SB: They’re both great players. They know what to do on the ice and I’m starting to get know what they’re going to do on the ice. They’re both scorers, they both can pass the puck, I think that that’s a good line, great line.
HF: You’ve already had a short stint in the NHL this season, what was that like?
SB: (Smiling) That was a dream come true. I mean, to play in the NHL so fast in the season, I didn’t think I was going to be called up that early, and that was amazing. I just want to go back there as soon as possible. I mean, I need to play good here. You never know what’s going to happen.
HF: What were the emotions when you scored that first goal against Dallas?
SB: I think that that’s the biggest goal I’ve ever scored, I don’t think I’m going to score another like that. Again, that’s just a big dream come true. To score in San Jose, and in front of all of the fans, that was amazing. I can’t wait. I sure hope to score another one.
HF: What would you say are the strengths of your game?
SB: I think I’m a power forward. I like to go in corners, win the battle one-on-one, create space for my teammates, and score some goals. But most of all, I need to play good defensively, and that’s what I’m trying to improve here this season.
HF: Any other areas of improvement that you’re working on to help go back up to San Jose?
SB: Yeah, I saw the speed that they have. I know I have to improve my speed. Right now I’m trying to improve it, but I’m going to work it hard this summer to make sure I’m ready for next season.
HF: Prior to the 2003 Draft there were knocks on your conditioning, what made you decide to start working hard on conditioning?
SB: I went to the testing in Toronto, and I knew I was not ready, and they kind of laughed at me. I was not ready, I did not want people to laugh at me again, so I tried to work hard and San Jose helped me out, my trainer in Quebec City helped me out too. So, I’m in a good way, and I’m going to continue to work out and make sure that I’m ready for next training camp and next season.
HF: Who’s your trainer?
SB: Stephane Dubay.
HF: What do you feel have been some of the benefits to that increased attention to conditioning on your game?
SB: I can be on the ice for more than 30 seconds and not be dying out there. So, I mean, the NHL is a level where you need to be in good shape, and when you’re a forward you need to forecheck, backcheck, and you need to be in good shape. It’s just helped me a lot to be in better shape. I know I have to get in better shape, and that’s why I’m going to continue to work on it.
HF: Going back to 2003, what were the emotions when you learned San Jose drafted you, and they also traded up to get you?
SB: Yeah, (smiling and laughing softly), that was something I was not, I didn’t think about, I didn’t talk to San Jose at all before the draft, so that was kind of a surprise, but a good surprise. San Jose’s a great organization. As a matter of fact, I don’t know why, but that was my first jersey that I had for the NHL, a San Jose Sharks jersey. I already liked that team and they’ve really helped me out. You never know what’s going to happen, but I hope to continue with the San Jose Sharks organization.
HF: How does the AHL compare to the Q?
SB: In the Q, it’s not that fast, that’s a good league, it’s fast enough, but compared to the American League and the NHL, it’s a huge difference in everything. When you receive a pass, you don’t have 10 seconds to make one pass, you have to move it right away. All of those little details are going to help me be a better player in the and maybe play in the NHL someday.
HF: What are some of your favorite memories from your time with Moncton?
SB: A lot of great memories. I remember my second year, that was the first time we made the playoffs, had a great year, 101 points. My third year we went to the finals and almost won the Memorial Cup, that was a good year. I just regret one thing, not being a part of the Memorial Cup one year. This year they’ve got it, and hopefully they’ll win the Memorial Cup.
HF: Were you at all disappointed that you didn’t crack San Jose this September?
SB: For sure I was disappointed, but I knew a little bit what was going on. They’ve got some great players and San Jose’s got a good team in the NHL. To be back in Cleveland, that was something I was not against, and I think they know what they’re doing with me. So, I know that if I work here, they might call be back to San Jose any time. I have no problem with that. Everybody knows that a lot of good players in the NHL went by the AHL before. So there’s nothing to worry about.
HF: Any disappointment in not playing for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships?
SB: Yeah, that was something, I didn’t get the invitation for the camp either, so that was tough to take. But, they won the gold medal, so you cannot say anything about that. But, I was hoping to win the gold medal because I knew that Canada did the last year. I played on the U18 team two years and we won the gold medal both years, so I knew that they had the favorite team by far. So, that would have been a good thing to play, but I didn’t play. I didn’t think about that, I just wished them the best of luck, and that’s what they did.
HF: Do things like that just add motivation?
SB: Yeah. After that news I was a little bit angry, that’s normal. But, you cannot do anything about it except prove to your team and the league that you’re able to play out there and make sure you’re a good player in the playoffs, and that’s what I did last year.
HF: Going back even more years, you were a big scorer in Midget AAA in Quebec, tell me a bit about AAA hockey in Quebec and some of your favorite memories from there and how it prepared you for the Q?
SB: Yeah, that was my best year in the last five years, by far the best year. We had the best team in Canada. We won the Air Canada Cup. That year, that’s going to be a memory my entire adult life. We had a pretty good team that year.
HF: Who were some of the other guys that were on that Ste. Foy team with you?
SB: Marc-Antoine Pouliot is playing in Hamilton, and Dany Roussin was playing with Manchester, but now he’s in the ECHL. Yeah, I think that’s pretty much it.
HF: So they both got to play with Sidney and you went to Moncton, it helps your points to play with Sidney Crosby.
SB: Yeah, last year they had a pretty good season. They almost won the Memorial Cup. They had a pretty good year last year with Crosby and Mario Scalzo.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.