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Leader-Post article (Bernhardt rewarding Raiders)

March 10 2008 at 12:12 PM
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N. W. Bruin  (Login NW_Bruin_GM)

Response to Vancouver Province article (Chilliwack shows grit in defeat)

Bernhardt rewarding Raiders

Greg Harder, The Leader-Post

Published: Monday, March 10, 2008

Justin Bernhardt has gone from lost to found.

After being traded twice in less than a year, the enigmatic winger was teetering on the brink of the WHL scrap heap last fall when he resurrected his once-promising career with the Prince Albert Raiders.

"It's a mental thing with Justin," explained head coach/GM Bruno Campese. "He'll get down on himself and doesn't believe how good he can be. Then he starts getting frustrated and starts getting lazy. The biggest thing we've tried to do is work on his mental (side) to get him to understand he can be as good as he wants to be. If he learns how to really prepare to play and prepare to win, he can be extremely effective."

Former Pat Justin Bernhardt

Bryan Schlosser, Leader-Post files

Bernhardt is rewarding the Raiders' faith with his finest season as a WHLer (25 goals and 56 points in 63 games). That includes 21 goals and 48 points in 50 games since he was acquired on Nov. 1 from the Kelowna Rockets for a conditional bantam draft pick.

"Coming into P.A., I wasn't too sure what to expect but things have been really good," said Bernhardt, 19. "I think I've (scored) a point-per-game since coming here. Things are rolling pretty good."

Bernhardt's natural abilities have never been questioned. The Yorkton native was pegged as a future star when the Regina Pats selected him in the second round of the 2003 bantam draft. Bernhardt cracked Regina's lineup as a 16-year-old, followed by a breakout sophomore campaign which included 22 goals and 45 points in 61 games.

Along the way he landed in the doghouse of head coach Curtis Hunt, who gushed about Bernhardt's raw ability but lamented his spotty work ethic.

At age 18, Bernhardt was a healthy scratch on several occasions before the Pats lost patience and sent him home to await a trade. Regina eventually worked out a six-player deal with the Rockets, who tried but failed to tap into his unfulfilled potential.

Between the Pats and Rockets in 2006-07, Bernhardt finished with just 15 goals and 37 points in 65 games. He got off to another slow start in Kelowna this season when the Raiders picked him up as a low-cost reclamation project.

It turned out to be a savvy investment, although Campese admitted that Bernhardt still takes the odd "day off."

"To be honest we've spent a lot of time with him trying to work both ends of the rink," said the rookie head coach. "There are times he might ignore that a little bit ... but for most of the time since he has been here, I have to hand it to him, he has been very disciplined. He has bought into our work ethic, which I know has been a problem in some places. It's funny, he has kind of found his own little niche in his leadership role. Guys want to be around him. He understands when he works hard that he can make things happen."

Bernhardt expressed relief that he's "finally" living up to his potential. That said, he couldn't explain why it's coming together so suddenly.

"I don't even know," said the good-natured veteran. "I guess I'm getting those bounces back from when I was 17. Playing with (Matt) Robertson and (Max) Brandl, that helps. They're finding me and I'm finding ways to put pucks in the net."

Just like he did Saturday, when Bernhardt scored a goal in a 4-2 loss to his old team. He also found time to exchange verbal barbs with Pats captain Logan Pyett.

"We're best of buds so it's always good to mess around," chuckled Bernhardt, who admitted to some feelings of nostalgia in his first visit to the Brandt Centre as a member of the opposition. "I played here for two-and-a-half years. I kind of miss it after a while but it's good to come back and see the boys and see how everything is."

Bernhardt also misses being part of a playoff race. The Raiders' season will be over in a week, but they're playing their best hockey of the season in the spoiler's role.

"It's tough not making the playoffs," he added. "I guess everyone is just kind of playing for each other. It seems to be working for us right now. We're just going to play out the next week and try to finish strong."

© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2008

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