Boston College sophomore and Chicago Blackhawks prospect Dan Bertram has built quite a résumé in his young hockey career. Earlier this month, the speedy winger added one more item to it – a World Junior Championship gold medal.
For Bertram, it was a boyhood dream realized and an experience that he will cherish for the rest of his life.
“Playing in front of a Canadian crowd and to be able to play for your country, it’s something that I’ll never forget. I remember being able to win it in front of the Canadian crowd with my family there. You kind of look up and realize that you had actually just accomplished one of your lifetime dreams, and to do it in front of your home fans is something that I’ll never forget,” said Bertram in a recent interview with Hockey’s Future.
The idea of knowing that his team had captured the gold was something that didn’t immediately sink in.
“You know, it’s almost a surreal kind of thought. You didn’t really know what was going on. I don’t think that it really sank in until the next morning. All I can kind of say is that I was pretty excited at the end of the night.”
Bertram was one of four players from the NCAA to represent Canada in the 2006 WJC. Michigan’s Andrew Cogliano (EDM) was the only one of the other three that he had played with prior to the tournament.
“I had played with Andrew before. We played together at the Under-18 level, so I knew him pretty well. I knew what kind of player he was and how exciting he was as a player. With Sasha (Pokulok), I played against him against in the Christmas tournament (Florida College Hockey Classic) last year, so I was kind of familiar with him but wasn’t 100 percent sure what kind of player he was. I had heard a lot about (Jonathan) Toews growing up and coming up through the Canadian ranks. They’re all great players. It’s kind of funny when everyone asks you if you hang out with the NCAA guys or with the Major Junior guys. Everyone just hung out together and everything we did, we did as a team. It wasn’t like there were groups like the OHL guys and the WHL guys that hung out separately. We all just hung out together as one big group. We’re all Canadians who all had the same goal,” said Bertram.
While Canada had been considered one of the favorites going into the tournament, Bertram understood all too well that winning the gold medal wasn’t a sure thing.
“The biggest thing coming into the tournament was that we knew that we had a good team but we knew that if we wanted to win we had to be the best team there. Not so much skill-wise but the best team as the guys who bought into the roles. Everyone was so excited about just doing whatever that they needed to do to win.”
In the game versus Team USA, Bertram squared off against two of his Boston College teammates in Nathan Gerbe (BUF) and Cory Schneider (VAN). The experience of playing against them was certainly interesting to say the least, especially since Gerbe is one of his regular linemates at Boston College while Schneider just happens to be a roommate.
“It’s a difference experience for sure. I kind of joked around with them about it before we all headed off,” said Bertram. “I actually live with (Cory) Schneider, so I spend every day with him (laughing). So it was different seeing him over there and having to compete against him. It’s the same thing with (Nate) Gerbe. I’ve gotten to know him pretty well this year. We’ve spent a lot of time together. He’s been playing very well for us here at Boston College and he had a good WJC too. It’s a funny thing to look over at the [USA] bench and seeing the guys that are on your line and that you live with.”
Despite the disappointment felt by Gerbe and Schneider, both players along with the rest of the Eagles team were happy for Bertram.
“I was so proud of winning the goal medal and I knew that they were very disappointed that they didn’t win it. But at the same time, I think that they were both really happy that were a part of the experience and I think they were happy for me too. I’d rather have someone win it that I know and could be proud of. They’ve been pretty good towards me about it. Everyone was pretty excited for me when I got back here and they all congratulated me. They all said that the second team that they were rooting for won, so that was good,” chuckled Bertram.
When asked whether he gave the Team Canada coaching staff some tips on how to beat Schneider, Bertram replied “maybe a little bit, but there’s not too many tips that you can give to beat Cory. You just have to get a lot of shots on him and hope for rebounds.”
Bertram feels that the greatest lessons learned from his WJC experience were accepting a role that isn’t always the role you want and playing with intensity night in and night out. They’re two attributes that he brings back to Boston College in hopes that it will help the Eagles capture another National Championship title.
“Everyone played with a lot of intensity going into every game each night. There wasn’t a night off. Everyone did everything that they needed to do to help the team win. It’s hard to convince the kids, especially the young kids that they have a certain role and that that’s going to help us win. Everyone wants to score the goals and everyone wants to set up the goals, but sometimes everyone has to buy into other things and that’s how the team is going to win. I think that’s a valuable experience for anyone and hopefully I’m able to pass that along to some other guys and hopefully bring that same mentality back.”
At the conclusion of the World Junior Championship, speculation began to swirl in the press about Bertram possibly leaving Boston College for the Vancouver Giants, who holds his CHL rights. He quickly dispelled the speculation, stating that he is quite content right where he is and has no intention of leaving Chestnut Hill for the WHL.
“No, no. I am more than happy with being at Boston College,“ said Bertram. “They’ve been very, very good to me and I’ve learned a ton here both on and off the ice. You know, it’s such a different experience here. You have hockey but you also have school as well. For example if you have a bad day on the ice, you can go back and you have the classroom and stuff to just get your mind off of it and away from the rink. I’ve really enjoyed myself here so far. People always just make these assumptions and I have nothing but great things to say about Vancouver, but I’m really, really happy about where I am right now. I’m really enjoying the situation and being here at Boston College.”
The Eagles went through many changes in the offseason, losing not only players to graduation but also top scorer Patrick Eaves (OTT) to the NHL. With the changes came a large group of newcomers. Bertram credits the players who have left for helping to guide him through his rookie season. He feels that he can pass along to this year’s freshmen, specifically his regular linemates of Gerbe and Brock Bradford (BOS), his experiences and knowledge to help them as well.
“The biggest thing for me was that I came in as a 17-year-old last year and it was a big learning year for me. I learned from the older guys. It’s hard when you come in and you’re in a different situation than what you’ve been in. Going from junior “A” where you’re depended on more, to college is different. It was a great learning experience last year. When those guys stepped out, they left me with a lot of stuff to work on. Before they left, I had the chance to watch them and watch their work ethic. By learning from them, I hope to apply it to my game this year. Overall, I feel very good this year. With the opportunities that I’ve been getting, I’m pretty excited to be playing.
“It isn’t about the age of the player but their experience with the game. It’s also about their ability and how they play and how they help out the other guys. Patrick Eaves and Ryan Shannon (ANA) were our captains last year and I had the chance to play with them a bit and I learned a lot from them. I know how it was like to be a young guy coming in as a freshman and hopefully I’m able to pass along some of the advice that Patrick and Ryan gave me to younger guys this year like Gerbe and Bradford. It’s funny because we’re all the same age but I have the year of experience of playing in the league. As freshmen, I know that they’re going to go through lots of ups and downs because every freshman goes through it and it’s a short season. It may be a 40-game season but I can tell you that those are going to be the 40 hardest games that you’ve played up to date. So the young guys try to ask questions and it’s good for them because we have a big role for the freshmen since we lost so many seniors. We need for them to step up and I think they’ve been doing a good job of doing that,” said Bertram.
The Calgary native feels that confidence and consistency are the two areas that he has not only learned the most from last season, but is striving to continue to improve upon this season as well.
“The big thing with college hockey is confidence. You’re only playing about 40 games so if you get your confidence down that’s half of your season. You may miss ten games in a row or a quarter of the season because of it. So the big thing for me is that I try to always stay positive in every situation that I’m in, in every game I play. You can’t let one game wreck the next nine games for you. It’s not like a Major Junior schedule where if you go into a little bit of a slump and then you get hot again and by the end of the year everything balances out. Staying confident, staying positive throughout the year, and being a consistent guy that can get on the scoresheet are just the biggest things for me. I also think that I’m a guy that can go out there, kill some penalties, and be dependable five-on-five. I play on a line with two freshmen. We’re all ’87 birthdays so we’re all pretty much freshman age but we’re going up against the best lines in the country. We’re playing well and hopefully we’ll continue to be there to back up the top line with (Brian) Boyle, (Chris) Collins and (Stephen) Gionta. I think that we kind of add that second line with scoring punch. We’ve been happy so far and hopefully we can help to keep it going down the stretch. If I can do my part, then I think it’ll help me a lot in the long run.”
A crucial area that Bertram strives to constantly improve in is his ability to generate more offensive opportunities with his linemates. Knowing how difficult and fierce the Hockey East race is every year, Bertram realizes that one of the keys to winning the league crown is a strong offense.
“I want to be able to create more offense with my linemates. We’ve been doing well as a line and for me I’ve been happy, but I feel that we need to keep finding ways to score more goals. Being in a league like Hockey East, it’s very, very hard to play in because it’s so competitive. Finding more ways to score goals and finding ways to create more offensive chances are two of my biggest goals for sure.”
Bertram, Gerbe and Bradford are a young and energetic trio that has become a formidable line combination. Bertram speaks candidly about his linemates and knows how important his and their roles are to the team’s success.
“We all compliment one another so well. You can’t put three guys together where all of them just want to shoot the puck or all of them just want to pass the puck. We have a little bit of everything. Brock is a very heads-up, passing type of player. He can find you all over the ice. Nate is a good combination of scoring and a high-energy guy that can finish checks. I’m the guy that likes to works hard, can get down low and battle. I can put a puck in or feed a puck. We all like to go out and work hard. Hopefully we’ll be able to get some chances by working hard with our hockey sense.
“I’m part of a strong line and I feel that we’ve been playing well as a line. We want to win as a team and in order to win as a team we have to get scoring from all different lines. I want my line to be able to pull our team through games if the big line isn’t doing it. That’s kind of the mentality that my linemates and I have right now and hopefully we can carry that into the rest of the season and into the playoffs.”
One man that Bertram credits for his collegiate achievements both on and off the ice is head coach Jerry York, an individual that he has great admiration and respect for.
“I had heard a lot about him before coming in here as a young kid. I had a chance to meet him and the first thing that I remembered about him was how good of a person he was more than how good of a coach he was. It’s hard to find that kind of care from a coach. He wants to make sure that you’re going to succeed in life. I think that’s a feather in his hat because everyone who has ever played for him has nothing but great respect for him not only as a coach but also as a person.
“As a coach, he wants us to compete. I realize that being an undersized forward that I have to compete and I have to battle. Those are things that he demands from his players. Coach York and the rest of the coaches have really helped me understand how important it is to be a well-rounded player. When you see the guys who have made it to the next level, those guys are all well-rounded players. There aren’t very many guys who make it to the next level just as purely offensive or purely defensive players anymore. The teams at the next level are going to want to have guys who can play both ends of the ice and work hard. When you look at guys that have made it to the next level like Brian Gionta, they have that ability to compete and work hard. Gionta may not be big, but you can’t measure the size of his heart that’s for sure. I tried to learn as much as I could from some of the guys who were here last year. They’ve all helped me to understand and learn more about the defensive side of the game as well.”
Like so many players growing up Canada, Bertram had the opportunity of choosing to take either the NCAA or Canadian Major Junior route. He chose to go the NCAA route and Boston College in part because of one former Eagle. It’s a decision that he has no regrets making.
“I enjoy school and I wanted to have something going besides hockey. You can do that with the Canadian Juniors too, but for me right now, I like the lighter travel schedule and I can focus not just on playing hockey but also on working out and school as well. It was very appealing to me. You just have to pick what works right for you and what you feel is best for you.
“Ben Eaves (PIT) was one reason that attracted me to the school. He came up to Calgary to play in a midget tournament a while back and I had a chance to see him play. I was in awe watching him play and I watched as he went up through the ranks. Being a kid from the Midwest, he chose to go to Boston College instead of Minnesota or North Dakota. He wanted to go out east. I came down, went to a game and checked out the school and fell in love with it.”
As a youngster growing up in Alberta, Bertram had a myriad of players to watch and look up to, and they included Joe Sakic and Mike Peca.
“Growing up I idolized Joe Sakic. He is such an unbelievable player. I try to pattern my game after Mike Peca. I really like the way he plays. He kind of does it all. For a guy who’s not that big, he finishes his checks, he can be dependable both ways and he had some good offensive years. I like the way Peca plays. I pattern myself after Mike Peca because we both have the same body type and we both play a similar game.”
Many players in the NCAA have best friends who play on other teams and Bertram is no different. His best friend is Minnesota-Duluth freshman and Vancouver Canucks prospect Mason Raymond.
“We’re neighbors back home. He’s dating my cousin (laughing). We grew up together. We played juniors and midgets together. We spend our summers back home working out together. We keep in touch every couple of days. He lets me know how his freshman year at Duluth is going and I try and give him some advice as well.
“It would be cool if Boston College somehow meets Minnesota-Duluth like in the playoffs because I think it would be really cool to play against him. We’ve never played against each other before. It would be a fun experience. He’s a pretty good hockey player. If we ever played against each other here in college, I don’t think that I’d ever forget an experience like that,” said Bertram.
Not surprisingly, Bertram says that Boston University’s old Walter Brown Arena is the hardest road rink to play in.
“The fans there are pretty crazy and they’re literally on top of you. I remember the glass there being about four feet tall. The fans would lean over and take swings at you during warm-ups and stuff (laughing).
His initiation into the BC/BU rivalry came not on the ice but in the weight room one day.
“I remember walking into the weight room one day last year wearing a red and white shirt and I couldn’t figure out why everyone was looking right at me. They made me take it off and I had to swear to never wear it again so long as I was on the BC campus (laughing). It’s kind of funny because after that I realized that there is a big rivalry there not so much because we hated each other but because we respected each other so much. It’s fun to be a part of it and it’s fun to have something like that, especially with the students involved and the history that goes along with it.
It’s always going to be a game no matter where we both are in the [national] rankings because everyone competes so hard. That’s kind of what’s nice about it. You can go in and battle each other for the bragging right of [Commonwealth Avenue].”
While BU maybe the hardest place to play, Bertram say that the most difficult collegiate player he has ever played against didn’t come from BU. In fact the player didn’t even play for a Hockey East school.
“Matt Greene (EDM) from North Dakota is the most difficult that I’ve ever played against. I played against him in the NCAA Tournament last year and he is such a big, strong opposing defenseman. He was just a man among boys. That’s the way I’d describe him. He has this big strong body. He got me pretty good last year during the [NCAA] regional. He gave me a check that I’ll remember for a while (laughing). I think he cross-checked me around my ribs area. I saw him recently playing in a game for Edmonton against Calgary and it’s worked out for him. He was a very good player when I played against him in college,” said Bertram.
One quality about Bertram that makes him such an outstanding player is his levelheaded approach to the game. He knows the importance of constantly improving in all aspects of the game to achieve success at the next level. While Bertram was ecstatic about being drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks, he also understands that being drafted means that the work has only just begun towards attaining the ultimate goal of playing in the NHL.
“As a kid it was a goal of mine to be drafted by an NHL team one day. I was very, very excited. I couldn’t have been picked by a better organization, being an original six team and all. That said, you can’t get too high or too low just because you got drafted. It’s just a stepping-stone. Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep working hard and hard enough to go to a pro camp and see what happens. Right now, it’s just a goal to work towards for me. I know that if I continue to work hard, someday I might be able to get a chance to try out for that team and hopefully make it as well.”
In the meantime, with the Beanpot Tournament around the corner and the race for the NCAA National Championship already underway, Dan Bertram could be adding even more to his already impressive résumé before the season ends.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.