When the New Jersey Devils take the ice for pregame warm-ups at approximately 7 p.m. tonight, I will have mixed emotions. I am pumped for a new season but slightly sad to let the memories of last year go. I am excited to see what they can do this season to follow up last year.
When the player intros start before the national anthem, I will be clapping and screaming my head off for every Devil. There is one person who will get an elevated ovation from me (and hopefully many others) because it’s the right thing to do; that’s Steve Bernier.
The fourth-line forward drew national attention from the hockey world last June when he took a five-minute major for boarding Rob Scuderi of the Los Angeles Kings in the first period of Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Kings went on to score three goals on that power play and win the game 6-1 to clinch their first-ever Stanley Cup.
Yes, it was absolutely disappointing when the game was over. Like good teammates do, those who were asked about Bernier defended him. It’s tough to gauge the entire fan base, but it appears to me that a solid amount of Devils fans have either forgiven him or haven’t thought anything about it since June. There are some who are still not over it. That’s fine; hold a grudge for this year, the next three years or forever. But when PA announcer Kevin Clark announces his name before puck drop, DO NOT boo Steve Bernier.
First, support the guy and encourage him. Don’t make him feel unwelcome here. Want to get more respect in the media about our fan reputation, Devils fans? Tell you what, booing Steve Bernier will not help. Secondly, it’s now 2013. I don’t care what Steve Bernier did last year or any other year of his career. The only thing I care about, and all Devils fans should care about, is what he can do for the team RIGHT NOW.
Lastly, do you think Bernier was purposely trying to get a penalty? No. He’s playing his butt off trying to force a Game Seven back in Jersey. He’s not worried about making a eye-popping hit that will get on all the sports highlight shows. He’s doing exactly what his coach asked him to do; forecheck hard.
That forecheck got the Devils to where they were a few months ago. That aggression, that relentless pursuit of the puck won them three rounds in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Sometimes you get burned by that. If not for Peter DeBoer’s forecheck, the Devils never even get a chance to see Bernier’s penalty in Game Six.
To go along with the notion of the forecheck’s success, without Bernier and his linemates Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta on that fourth line, the Devils probably don’t make it to the Stanley Cup Finals anyway. They played such huge roles, especially in the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers series. At times, they were a big mismatch for other teams’ bottom two lines. I’m not sure where the Devils would have finished without Bernier and friends.
On another side note, just from my own personal standpoint; if Scuderi doesn’t bleed, it’s not called as a major, just a double-minor. If that’s the case, the Kings only get two goals and maybe a two-goal game has a different feel for the Devils instead of trailing 3-0.
Also, there are no guarantees in that Game Six. Let’s say hypothetically they don’t call the penalty at all. OK, it’s still a scoreless game, ten minutes into the first period. Who’s to say the Kings don’t beat them anyway? Packed house, another chance to bring home their first ever Cup in their building? The Devils easily could have lost that contest. Even if the Devils take Game Six, everyone knows that anything can happen in a Game Seven. Go ask the Detroit Red Wings how that worked out for them a few years ago.
Additionally, if they had taken care of business in even ONE of the first two overtime games at home, the Bernier situation isn’t a big deal because they still could have won it all in Game Seven. If Mark Fayne doesn’t miss an empty net in Game One (by the way, guess who helped set up that chance? Bernier.) and Ilya Kovalchuk shoots a bit lower in Game Two, no one in the world would even be talking about Steve Bernier.
Lastly, it’s OK to admit the Kings were the better team, Devils fans. They won a pair of road games in overtime, dominated in Game Three, heck, almost swept the Devils if not for a late dramatic goal in Game Four. The Kings even had a chance going into the third period of Game Five to take the Cup on Jersey ice. There were not many stretches where the Devils were the vastly better team in that series. Bernier did not affect the way that series was likely going to end.
That said, if you will be at The Rock tonight, do not boo Steve Bernier tonight during player intros. If you want to cheer him wildly, I’ll be right there with you. If you want to be silent, I can respect that as well. But don’t boo. It makes the fanbase look bad.
There’s an explanation for what Bernier did; he was going hard after the puck. There is NO explanation for booing any New Jersey Devil at a home opener for a new season.