Jonathan Bernier is known for having a rigorous summer training regimen. But this summer was truly one to remember for the veteran goaltender.
After finishing a tumultuous season as the Toronto Maple Leafs' No. 1 goalie, his place on the club's pecking order shifted when the Leafs acquired Frederik Andersen from the Anaheim Ducks on June 20 and then signed the Danish netminder to a five-year contract. Less than three weeks later, Bernier was shipped to Anaheim. Two weeks after that, he married model Martine Forget in a lavish ceremony attended by 250 guests in Montreal.
How's that for an eventful offseason?
"I was expecting [the trade], it's a tough business. I was ready mentally for that," Bernier said. "I knew they were going to get someone. But to be honest I didn't expect a long-term deal like Freddy signed. At that point I knew it was better for me to go somewhere else because I wasn't in their future plan. That's why I'm excited."
It's a new challenge for Bernier, who has suddenly gone from being an undisputed No. 1 to battling for crease time with John Gibson, a potential franchise goalie who is four years Bernier's junior and is entering the first year of a three-year extension. But after a whirlwind three-year Toronto tenure that began with playoff hopes and ended with a top-to-bottom rebuild under new management, he hasn't been this close to a title since hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2012 as a backup with the Los Angeles Kings.
"They are big and physical and a skilled team. You need a team like that to go deep in the playoffs," Bernier said of the Ducks. "That's your goal as a hockey player: to be in the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup every year. I just feel I'm a lot closer with Anaheim than I was with Toronto."
Uprooting his young family and moving across the continent shouldn't be too harrowing for Bernier. He'll be returning to the region where he first cut his NHL teeth and joining a strong Anaheim team that was his biggest rival when he was with the Kings, who drafted Bernier 11th overall in the 2006 draft. The connection doesn't stop there: He made his NHL debut in 2007 against Anaheim, a 26-save season-opening win in London, England.
That two-game European trip momentarily established the then-teenage Bernier as the Kings' franchise goalie of the future. But Bernier didn't last on an inexperienced Kings team, spending much of that 2007-08 season with the Lewiston Maineiacs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
The following season, Jonathan Quick, drafted by the Kings a year before they took Bernier, leapfrogged the Quebec native on the Kings' depth chart. Within a few years, Quick was the anchor of a team that won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014.
"Jonathan Bernier is a very solid goalie. When he first arrived in L.A., he was considered the goalie of the future," said Rogie Vachon, the former Kings goaltender and general manager. "Jonathan Quick had a great training camp and really established himself. But it could have been Quick as the No. 2 with those Kings teams."
A top-tier backup on a championship team, Bernier was traded to Toronto in 2013, a year after winning the Cup and six long years after his London debut. His moment in the spotlight -- one of hockey's brightest, in fact -- arrived with a marquee franchise poised for its first playoff run in more than a decade.
Bernier won four of his first five starts with Toronto as the Maple Leafs opened that season 6-1-0. He'd go on to establish a career high with 26 wins but a lingering lower-body injury and Toronto's 2-12-0 end to the season dashed the collective hopes of Leafs Nation.
"We felt really good about our team. We were right there to make the playoffs my first year in Toronto," Bernier said. "The second year, by Christmas they fired Randy. We could tell management wanted to take a different direction, but that's the business."
Toronto's firing of coach Randy Carlyle in the first week of 2015 was a turning point. But red flags were waving long before the change. In Bernier's first season in Toronto, the Maple Leafs gave up a league-worst 35.9 shots per game. The following season, with Carlyle replaced by interim coach Peter Horachek, Toronto's defense gave up 33.5 shots per game. In the fishbowl that is Air Canada Centre, that shooting gallery brought plenty of attention on Toronto's goalies.
"When they're giving up 40 shots a night, you're just trying to break dance in the net. It's an opportunity to get better but at the same time there are going to be nights where you get tattooed," said former NHL goaltenderKevin Weekes, now a broadcaster. "Never privately or publicly did he ever throw his teammates under the bus. That says a lot to me."
Following the adversity they faced together in Toronto, Bernier is excited to be reunited with Carlyle, who is beginning his second tour after being hired by the Ducks in June. Carlyle was Anaheim's coach when they won the franchise's lone title, in 2007.
"He's a great guy," Bernier said. "He's very demanding; that's what you want from a coach."
More than anything, Bernier is looking forward to a career reset, free of the distractions he consistently faced in Toronto. Just walking down the street unrecognized will be a welcome change of pace. He's also one year away from unrestricted free agency, making this move a perfect opportunity for the goaltender who arrived in Southern California as an overwhelmed teenager and returns as a husband, father and NHL veteran.
"I remember those years, it just felt like everything was new, everything was so big," Bernier said. "Now I just play hockey and do my thing."
After escaping the heat in Toronto, Jonathan Bernier is ready for calmer Anaheim
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