It has been four months since Brett Berard’s life changed. The speedy winger who played for the US National Team Development Program last season was watching the draft at home with his parents when his name popped up. It started a rollercoaster ride that took him to Edmonton where he won gold at the WJC and he’s still enjoying.
Brett Berard on early years and draft
Growing up in Greenwich, RI, Berard started playing hockey ever since he could remember. His dad coached the Providence College Friars and he was also a goalie for them years ago. Berard committed to the same college where his mother also has her roots.
“I committed when I was pretty young, but my mom was a field hockey player there and as I said, my dad was a hockey goalie there and he coached there,” Berard said about his decision to join the Friars program. “I grew up around that campus and they were the first school to talk to me. It was easy to accept.”
His dad is his biggest fan and biggest example. Berard explains that one thing he learned from his dad was just to block out all the noise and play his own game. “My dad was a goalie as I mentioned before and his advice really helped for sure“.
After his name showed up on TV on day 2 of the NHL draft, Berard received a phone call from General Manager Jeff Gorton. “That was pretty cool. I had a Zoom interview with them in the summer,” he explained. “There was no combine so all interviews were done on Zoom.”
“I’ve been working towards this my whole life,” Berard smiled remembering the call. “That day to finally come and see my name on TV is something I will never forget. Being home with my mom and dad, it was awesome. It was pretty crazy“.
World Juniors and Gold
Berard got a phone call from someone else with a link to the Rangers late last year. It was John Vanbiesbrouck, the General Manager of USA Hockey to inform Berard he was invited to a preliminary camp ahead of the World Juniors Championship.
“It was my first time being part of a team like this. In the past I was invited for a try-out camp for the NTDP but this is something special. I hoped I could make the best out of this“, Berard said about the opportunity that eventually led to him making the team.
He credits the NTDP for helping him develop into the player he is today. It was a huge honor to play with the best kids in the country in his age group. “The NTDP scouts start watching you at a young age and after a try out the coach (Seth Appert) that I made the team. It was like the draft, getting to represent my country and now I get to do it again at a different level“.
At the WJC, Berard spoke to Hunter Skinner, who the Rangers drafted the year before in Vancouver and it helped. “He is here on the same team which is pretty cool. He’s helping me a lot and tells me about the organization“.
In Edmonton, Berard was one of the revelations of the tournament, playing on the 3rd line, he was all over the ice and instrumental in games where team USA struggled to get going. Berard was flying, making things happen and it’s the way he plays best.
He says his hockey sense is his biggest strength in addition to his ability to hold onto the puck giving his teammates time to catch up. He was the perfect catalyst on a young team poised to shock the world.
And shocking the world, they did. Beating Canada in the final, Berard, together with Skinner became the first Rangers prospect to win a gold medal at the WJC since Aleksi Saarela in 2015-16 and he finished the tournament with 5 points in 7 games.
Brett Berard odds and ends
When asked which wing he prefers, Berard smirks and says he plays both wings. “Ever since I was a kid, I was on the left wing and then when I joined the NTDP, I played a bit of right wing, and I love playing on the right. Being on my off-side sometimes is easier than being on the left side so I am comfortable with either. In the defensive zone it feels easier playing on the right. If the puck gets rimmed around the boards, I get it on my forehand instead of my backhand making it easier for me. That’s what I like about the right side.”
It’s an interesting answer from the kid that just shows that some players adjust quicker to different positions than others. For the Providence Friars, Berard has played mostly on the right side and in 12 games so far, he had 3 goals and 3 assists.
He goes on to say that his favorite players are Brad Marchand and Brendan Gallagher. He tries to model his game after those two and while he might not reach that level, it’s definitely interesting to see the style of hockey Brett Berard focuses on and how he sees himself.
Over the last few years, the Rangers have drafted a lot of skilled players, and Berard seems to fit perfectly as the missing piece to the puzzle if everything works out. When asked about his favorite number, Berard lights up, “Number 9!”
“It has always been my go-to number until I got to the NTDP and switched to number 6, which is not a popular number for forwards but if Brock Boeser can do it, why not me?“. A Rangers forward with number 6? Berard would be the first one since Manny Malhotra!
Near the end of our conversation we talked about tournaments in Europe and how Zac Jones complained about the small beds in the Czech Republic. Berard remembers his trips to Europe well. “When I was at the NTDP, we had 2 tournaments in Sweden and 1 in the Czech Republic. We got to spend the day in Prague and it was such a beautiful city to visit. It’s really nice down there. But the beds are so small over there in Europe. I remember all my teammates complaining about that.” Berard was hoping he could play the WJC in Europe but he got something Zac Jones didn’t: That gold medal.
Berard, who is one of the youngest in his draft class, being born 6 days before the cut-off date of September 15th, has a long way to go but early returns look good and his freshman season in college looks promising. I think it will be two more years after this season before we can expect Berard to make an appearance in either a Rangers of Wolf Pack jersey but the future looks bright for the kid from Rhode Island.
PS: I want to thank Brett Berard for sitting down with me during the WJC and giving me the opportunity to share this story with our fanbase.