Talks to Peter Collins
WHEN Mark Bernard inked his contract with the Storm he not only joined the SuperLeague champions, he joined the Storm family. "The atmosphere Kurt and Daryl have created here is really unique. We've got a great bunch of guys, everydody gets along well and I think a lot of it is down to the fact we all have families and they're over here with us - my wife will be joining me in November. I've never been on a team before with so many married guys who also have their families with them. It makes a huge difference, it usually means they're a bit older, a bit more serious about their job because there's more on the line. If you're a single guy there's a lot more to distract you, but if you're married with kids, especially as a member of this club, you want to do your very best every night so you stay here. I'm sure all the guys want to spend a few years in Manchester, who wouldn't, right?"
His time with Bracknell wasn't always successful, but back in the ECHL (he was with the Johnstown Chiefs, Hampton Roads Admirals and Erie Panthers, as well as spells in the AHL with the Baltimore Skipjacks and Rochester Americans) he was always on a winning team, winning back-to-back championships with one and making it to the finals only to lose in game six with another, so joining a winning team isn't exactly a new experierence, although it is a lot different from life with the Bees. "It's a big change coming here everyday from going to the rink in Bracknell, I mean this is the best arena in Europe and the best organisation. I really enjoyed my time in Bracknell, the fans, the management, the coaches - Jim Fuyarchuk and Dave Whistle - were all great to me, but it helps create a special atmosphere when you come to the rink every game expecting to win. The first night we played here against Ayr in the B&H, Ruby's farewell, that was the first time I've ever won in Manchester. Now I'm looking forward to playing Bracknell down the road. That'll be neat, although after the Sheffield game I asked Shane McCosh and Dale Junkin who like me were with Bracknell last year about what it was like returning and they said they were booed!"
He ended his time with the Berkshire club in painful circumstances, rupturing a hernia making a save against the London Knights. He went back home to recover where he spent the tail end of the season getting back to fitness with the Fayetteville Force in the CHL and the his hometown club, the Hamilton Bulldogs in the AHL. After that his future was unclear. "After three years with Bracknell I wanted a change and to be honest I wasn't sure I'd be returning to England, I was thinking of getting fixed up back home. But then I put a call into Kurt telling him I was available. I knew that if I joined the Storm it would be as second choice and I'd be getting the tough road games, but any game I get I've just got to be ready for it. At first it was hard to adjust to not being the first choice and not playing every game but it just means I have to stay a little sharper both mentally and physically. That was Kurt's biggest worry when we first talked, he asked me to take some time out to get used to the idea of being back-up, not being the go-to-guy every night. But everyone in Britain knows Frankie is the best goalie in SuperLeague and I knew I could only learn off him so it really hasn't been a problem. I watch him and he watches me and points out where I'm going wrong. We get along really well. We all have a lot of respect for each other and I'm treated as a number one by everyone and that means a lot."
Although he's 30, until the team's pre-season training camp in Switzerland, and apart from playing in Britain, he had never played in Europe or against European opposition. And even though Storm were 0-0-6 he nevertheless enjoyed the experience. "Switzerland gave us the opportunity to blend in with the rest of the guys, we knew each other from playing against each other but not on a personal level, it also gave the returning guys the chance to get re-acquainted and for all of us to gell together. We played some very good teams that had been together for a month and their level of play was a little bit above ours, but we improved every game and it went a long way to helping us get ready for the first game because it meant we were two weeks ahead of the rest of SuperLeague. The games themselves were really wide open, they went for the breakaways and it was very fast with very little hitting. Having said that we got off to a slow start in Nottingham - my first game in Storm shirt for real - but we've built up momentum since then and I backstopped a win in Newcastle and then played in Cardiff." Frankie Pietrangelo was due back between the pipes for Sunday's visit of Newcastle and again for tonight's EHL opener against IFK Helsinki, with 'Bernie' resuming his place on the bench waiting for his next chance to start. But one thing's for sure, he won't have to impress his Storm 'family', he's already done that.