High praise for Jonathan Bernier by CEO

Goalkeeper Jonathan Bernier carries the Stanley Cup he helped the Los Angeles Kings win in 2012...

Goalkeeper Jonathan Bernier carries the Stanley Cup he helped the Los Angeles Kings win in 2012 around Laval University last summer. Bernier was backup to Jonathan Quick but did not see any action in the post-season that year. (Ghyslain Lavoie, QMI Agency)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:56 PM ET

TORONTO - Company CEOs don't usually call up new workers and welcome them to the plant.

But Tim Leiweke made an exception for Jonathan Bernier, recognizing what he could mean to the fortunes of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and its Cup-starved hockey team in particular. The two were together in Los Angeles when the Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012.

Though Bernier watched it all from the bench, everyone involved with Sunday’s trade says the Leafs landed a fine young goalie and an important dressing room bulwark.

“He’s very excited to have me on board,” Bernier said of the call Leiweke made to his Quebec cottage. “They’re a good young team that wants to win and obviously it’s a great organization that will do pretty much anything to win. That’s one thing I was pushing for, to play for a great club and great organization.”

Time will tell on that rosey outlook, but it beats the Leafs getting stiffed by a free agent.

General manager Dave Nonis said Leiweke’s official arrival this month didn’t cement the season-long trade banter between the clubs, but “Tim knows the player and I know he thinks a lot of him. He’s an extremely popular young man.”

Nonis had a window on Bernier, too, back at the 2011 world championship in Slovakia when he was general manager of Team Canada. The goalie Bernier battled for the starting job was Leafs rookie James Reimer — arriving after the Kings were kayoed in the playoffs — and eventually moving ahead of Reimer to play the final games.

“I didn’t get to know him that well,” Reimer told the Sun’s Mike Zeisberger on Sunday. “He seemed like a friendly guy. I haven’t heard anything bad about him.”

That was a two-week tournament, but now it’s potentially nine or 10 months in Leafs lockdown for the pair of 25-year-olds. That’s every year for the foreseeable future, with each coveting the starter’s role.

Reimer isn’t the calibre of Jonathan Quick, whom Bernier played behind like a good soldier for three years.

One summer in L.A., when Bernier opined himself as a No. 1 in his own mind, it was interpreted as a trade demand. A mortified Bernier came to camp anxious to convince Quick, his teammates and the media he was not a malcontent. Gestures such as that won him lots of friends and he took great pride in getting his Cup ring. That’s why Nonis thinks he and the uber-polite, ultra-competitive Reimer will hit it off.

“They seemed to get along well (in 2011),” Nonis said. “With James, there’s not going to be a personality issue.

“They play a little different style. Jonathan gives us a different element. He played behind one of the top goalies in the game. That will hamper you (developing). But Jonathan played very well when they needed him this year. He’s been on a Cup team, around great players and that’s a plus.”

Bernier has been described as having a hybrid butterfly style and keeps his glove high like a baseball catcher. Conn Smythe winner Bill Ranford was his Kings goalie coach and former Vezina Trophy holder Ron Hextall is L.A.’s assistant GM, so you know he’s had fine tutoring thus far.

He just needs a chance to show it regularly. The emergence of Quick held him to 41 games between 2010-12, but an injury to the starter put Bernier in for a vital stretch of games in February. His record of 9-3-1 overall, with defencemen Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene out, was credited with keeping the Kings in rhe playoff hunt and he finally did see his first playoff action.

He was asked by the L.A. Times if the long stretch spent in Quick’s shadow was getting to be demoralizing.

“I’ll look in 10 years and I’ll be: ‘Oh, it was just short time in my career’,” Bernier said. “Obviously, at the moment, it felt like it was never going to end.

“You’ve got to always move forward and right now it’s time to show what I learned in three years, in my ups and downs. That’s going to help me out in a few years.”


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