(The following article originally appeared in the InGoal Magazine newsletter on Monday. To sign up for the FREE weekly edition, and get your chance to ask NHL goalies a question, simply enter your email address in the form on the right side of this page.)
Jonathan Bernier didn’t got off to the kind of start most people, including himself, envisioned to his NHL career.
Bernier struggled going from a dominant everyday starter in the American Hockey League to a door-opening backup to Jonathan Quick in his first full season in the NHL. He only won two of his first seven starts, and four of his first 11 through early January, his goals-against average was well above three, and his save percentage below .900.
The problems, Bernier says now, were both between his ears and between the pipes.
Both appear to be solved now, as the promising 22-year-old was 6-0-3 in his last nine starts since early February, with three shutouts and a save percentage of .942 in that span. Bernier took the time to explain his early struggles to InGoal Magazine, and how he turned them around, in this week’s Ask a Pro segment:
InGoal: Was the toughest part of this season adjusting to playing so much less?
“For sure. I think mentally just trying to keep my confidence high was tough. When you don’t play as much I think that’s what the tendancy is, so after Christmas I started staying positive and I think it worked for my game obviously. I just started having fun instead of worrying in practice. Sometimes I was getting mad.
“I was so stiff in practice and then it was kind of going to my game and I’m more that guy that is calm in the net and shows that composure, so I just tried to have fun and, you know, feel comfortable in practice and I think it just translated into my game.”
InGoal: We’ve conversations with other backups, most notably Alex Auld in Montreal, about the need to adjust your approach to practice when you aren’t playing as often; that you have to recognize some drills just aren’t good for the goalie if you are trying to stop every shot, and you have to focus on not changing your approach.
“Exactly. You have to learn you can’t stop everything. For me obviously if we do a 1-on-0 then I will try to stop every puck, but when it’s a 3-on-0 I will really make sure I get that wide guy. If he’s coming down and makes that back door pass, usually in a game that won’t happen, you know. So I’m just trying to be aggressive on the wide guys. That’s what my D are taught to do so that’s what I am trying to do. It has been a learning curve.
“Earlier I was worrying too much. You want to stop everything, but sometimes you just develop bad habits. So for me it was just focus on what the game would be like and then try to work on my game within that.”
InGoal: Did you have to adjust your mental preparations for the games you were playing?
“Obviously when you get in a new team you always change, but I don’t do anything really special anyways. I come to the rink, drink coffee and then wait for the meeting and I go stretch for half an hour and then kind of try to get dressed really early and then talk with the boys and have some laughs. I think it just leeps me loose.
“I’m not that kind of guy with balls on the wall and that hand-eye co-ordination kind of stuff. I’m just stretching and I feel like just with my warm up on the ice I feel pretty good in the game. I’ll do a dynamic warm up with the team first – probably 10 exercises to warm you up a little bit – and then I do a static stretch on my own.”
InGoal: When we last talked before the season opener, you were playing a somewhat conservative depth, with your toes usually inside the blue ice. Are we correct in saying that has changed during the season?
“I think it did actually. I had to get a little bit more aggressive than I was in Manchester in the AHL. I had to be more aggressive when a guy had a really good scoring chance. Before I could probably stay deeper.
“It’s not like I am over-aggressive. I just added a few inches, maybe instead of my toes at the edge of the blue it’s going to be my heels out on top of the blue. That’s the only thing me and (Kings goalie coach) Billy (Ranford) worked on, was just getting more aggresiove on the shooters.”
InGoal: Any other differences from the AHL to NHL? Goalies often say it’s less scrambled up here?
“It’s more predictable here, you can read the game much easier.”
InGoal: If you had one piece of advice for young goalies, what would it be?
“I think for me even at this level, it’s have fun. Everytime I go in and enjoy playing hockey I think that’s when I play my best. I think maybe I lost that a little bit earlier this season because sometimes when you get a new team and you are stressed out a little bit I don’t think you enjoy it as much.
“So for me it was really important to have fun and I think it’s been showing.”
InGoal: What about advice for smaller goalies as a guy who is 5-foot-11 in a league increasingly being dominated by 6-foot-6 behemoths?
“I’m not a big goalie in this league but I think you just got to be patient. Any goalie can make it if you have that good patience. It might be a little harder than a 6-foot-7 gialie but with good patience you can be just as big as a 6-foot-7 goalie.”
InGoal: What have you learned, if anything, from Quick, and do you try to emulate any of it?
“He’s so athletic, he’s going to make that split save. He’s really flexible and he’s got great footwork. I think at first I was really watching him because he had a lot of success in this league but then after it was like ‘I’ve had success in the AHL, and I’ve got to keep working on my game,’ not really watching other goalies tendencies.”
InGoal: Fitness is obviously important for you, what is your offseason routine like, and how does it change during the season?
“Offseason I work out five days a week in the gym and I do a lot of yoga. Tha’s the summer, and in the season it’s more just maintenance. We play so much, we play almost every other day so I really try to stretch a lot, that’s one thing I really try to do. It’s usually 15 minutes before and 15 minutes after practice, mostly legs, groins hips.”
InGoal: And is there a goalie coach you work with on the ice in the summers?
“Marcel Marciano. He’s a great coach. I’ve been with him since I was probably 12 years old. In the summer time I work with Benoit (Allaire) a little bit too, usually a one-week training camp.”
InGoal: When people here Benoit, they think playing from the goal line out and a deeper philosophy form his work with Henrik Lundqvist in New York, which doesn’t seem to fit a smaller goalie like yourself.
“He doesn’t just teach like Henrik plays. I think he adjusts and he’s really good explaining the game and he’s really passionate for the game too. He can adjust to any goalie depending on size.”