After taking a five minute major penalty in the Stanley Cup Finals for boarding Rob Scuderi of the Los Angeles Kings and receiving a game misconduct, Steve Bernier’s name was poised to be forever etched in the memory of New Jersey Devils’ fans.
As Bernier sat in the visitor’s locker room, the Kings netted three, putting the final nail in the coffin for the Devils and ending any hopes of a trip back to the Garden State for game a historic game seven.
“It’s a bad spot for him to be in,” Devils’ coach, Pete DeBoer said in an interview following the devastating loss. “Everybody knows Bernie’s heart’s in the right place.”
However, after stops in San Jose and time with the Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks and the Florida Panthers, Bernier found himself an unrestricted free agent without a place to hang his helmet prior to last season.
The Devils invited him to training camp and offered him a two-way contract afterward which he initially declined. A month later, he agreed to suit up for the Devils’ AHL affiliate in Albany.
In January, he inked a two-way deal. During the Devils’ run to the finals, he found a home on the hard-nosed fourth line with Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta. He would contribute two goals and five assists in the playoffs, but will unfortunately be remembered for that one game-changing hit.
“It was very hard, for sure,” Bernier said following the game. “I wish I could take that play back, but I can’t.”
In the weeks following the loss, general manager Lou Lamoriello showed the young winger that the organization hadn’t lost faith in him by offering him a contract which Bernier appreciated.
“It was a tough summer, mentally, but at the same time easier,” he explained in a preseason interview. “I just needed to focus on what I need to do on the ice.”
Thus far this season, Bernier has three goals and gets regular time with the second power play unit. His goal, like all players, to win a Stanley Cup, remains unchanged.
While the hit will ultimately follow him through the rest of his career, like the ground ball through the legs has haunted Bill Buckner, Bernier is putting it behind him as are Devils fans who have received him warmly and have not targeted him with the boos. They’ll save that for Scott Gomez, if he sticks with the Sharks and makes a return to the Prudential Center.
After all Bernier didn’t put the Devils in a three game hole in the finals. The team did that.