Leafs at the World Juniors: Jonathan Bernier, 2008

Jonathan Bernier’s time with the Maple Leafs has seen him transition into, when he’s at his best, one of the better goalies in the league. Despite a seemingly neverending controversy between him and James Reimer, the one thing that is abundantly clear is he’s the team’s most frequently used goaltender, and therefore the de facto starter.

But before Bernier came to Toronto, he’s had to settle for roles as a backup, most notably behind Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings, but also behind Steve Mason and the Canadian National Junior team. And just like when Bernier was in Toronto, there was definitely debate as to whether or not he was being used properly. 

The Stats:

Bernier played the first game of the tournament for Canada, earning a shutout in a 3-0 win over the Czech Republic on the traditional Boxing Day start. Bernier then alternated starts with Mason the rest of the way through three remaning preliminaries. Mason managed a 2-0 record, giving up just one goal against Denmark and Slovakia, while Bernier fell 4-3 in a tough loss to Sweden. Despite Bernier playing the perceived two tougher teams in the round robin, Mason was given the starting role the rest of the way, while Bernier was forced to sit on the bench. 

The Result:

Canada defeated Finland in the quarterfinals 4-2, led by Brad Marchand’s goal with just under ten minutes to go to break a 2-2 tie. Canada then followed up with a 4-0 lead over the Americans in the semifinals, followed by a lone American goal by Bernier’s future teammate in James van Riemsdyk.

While much of Canada’s drama has come from semi-final matchups, you won’t find a more nerve-wracking Canadian victory in a gold medal game than 2008. 

Courtesy of a young pirating teenager named Jeff Veillette (although he did get the year wrong on the video), highlights are shown below of Sweden’s tying goal in the final minute before current Winnipeg Jet Matt Halischuk netted the overtime winner for a 3-2 win in the championship game.

Key Teammates:

As mentioned, Steve Mason had a whale of a tournament, winning MVP. While the decision to turn to Mason may have been slightly controversial, it worked out extremely well as he posted a .951 save percentage, giving up just 6 goals in his 5 games played. Drew Doughty, PK Subban, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Brad Marchand and Kyle Turris formed a roster that’s a who’s who of some of the biggest names in hockey today. Doughty was named to the tournament all-star team, while Turris (surprisingly?) led Canada in scoring with eight points. While not as dominant as some of the other Canadian teams in history (notably 2005), this team’s best players are all now just hitting their prime as NHL stars.

The Scout’s Take:

While Bernier didn’t see much action at his lone year at the tournament, that’s not to say he wasn’t being evaluated at the time. Much like current team Canada goaltender Zach Fucale did in 2012-13, Bernier went 16-1 in the QMJHL playoffs in 2006-07 en route to a league championship. Bernier earned the most valuable player of the league playoffs, but his Lewiston MAINEiacs went just 1-3 at the Memorial Cup, losing out in the tiebreaking round. Bernier also had the rare NHL experience for a goaltender at the WJC, playing four regular season games with the LA Kings prior to returning to junior. Drafted 11th overall in 2006, Bernier was projected by most to be the starter of the future for the Kings, while 3rd round pick from 2005 Jonathan Quick wasn’t quite as highly sought after. Bernier’s transition to Toronto allowed him to compete for and ultimately win the #1 spot he had desired, posting marks of .923 and .921 save percentage through his first two seasons to date.