Kings prospect Martin Jones, the top goaltender in Manchester the past two seasons, hasn’t signed a new contract yet. In early July GM Dean Lombardi made qualifying offers to Jones and seven other Restricted Free Agents – including Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis and Jake Muzzin. Since then, everybody excluding Jones has inked a new deal.
On the surface, one normally wouldn’t expect any sort of a hold out or an issue moving forward. However, things are down to the wire, as Rookie Camp is set to start in just a few days. So, it’s a situation raising at least a few eyebrows.
And it could be just the opening JF Berube needs to achieve his current goal – starting October in the AHL, not going back to the ECHL for a third season. Perhaps a little extra playing time in camp this week, maybe even starting one of the two upcoming Rookie Games vs. the Ducks, would allow his skills to shine a little brighter and put some pressure on Lombardi and his staff.
Berube has posted stellar numbers while manning the cage for the Ontario Reign, but really wasn’t given any playing time when called up to Manchester last season. Instead, we were told Kings management wanted to test Jones, seeing how he’d perform under a heavier than normal workload.
Making things even more complex, Manchester added German goalie Matthias Niederberger this summer. So, where exactly does that leave Berube heading into camp? Well, that’s a good question.
“Yeah, there’s going to be a good competition,” Berube said, as he prepared to leave his Montreal home and return to Los Angeles on Labor Day. “That’s what hockey is for – we’re athletes and we want to compete. I did everything to get ready to take my spot and I feel pretty confident about how I’m going to preform. I got ready mentally and physically, so I’m just going to let it on the ice.”
His preparation has included visits to the gym five times a week and stints on the ice at least twice a week, usually on Tuesdays and Fridays.
“I just kept the same routine as last summer,” Berube said. “I think last year I saw improvement in my conditioning on and off the ice, so I just kept things the same, keep it simple. It’s about working hard and having the necessary rest time to reset our bodies over the weekends and I think it worked pretty good for me this summer.”
As with any workout regimen though, there are parts Berube admits to not fully enjoying.
“It’s always the leg and cardio workouts,” he shared with a chuckle. “Those are really hard and they really make your body tired. It sucks to do it but those are the most important things, I guess.”
Just like he does during the season, Berube remained in regular contact with Kings’ goaltending gurus Bill Ranford and Kim Dillabaugh throughout the summer.
“Of course the main thing for me has always been my conditioning. They just want to make sure I always take a step forward and I think the past two years that’s what I’ve made, and this year I feel an even bigger improvement in my conditioning. I think it’s going to be fun to see my results with the testing they do to start to camp. I feel pretty confident and I think I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in.”
Away from the rink, the 6-foot-1 netminder also made sure to mix in a few leisure activities to help clear his mind and spirit.
“Golf and my cottage,” he said, when beginning to explain some of the things he’s been doing for fun recently. “Those are for sure my two favorite places to be out of the gym. My girlfriend also stayed here [in Montreal] for the whole summer, so I spent a lot of time with her. And ping pong! I played a lot of ping pong with my friends. We had little tournaments and never ending games until two in the morning.”
Does that mean he’s good at ping pong or just uber competitive?
“I’m both, I think. I think my friends are pretty good too, so we’re good and competitive.”
Like his conditioning, Berube also feels his golf game is rounding into form as well.
“My friend plays in the mid-70’s [referring to his handicap], so it’s always fun to play with him. He shows me little tips, so try to work them into my game.”
Having trained with Jonathan Bernier the past few summers – a man with a noted sense of style – does Berube bring any of that Montreal swaggar to the greens?
“I just throw on whatever is clean, I’m not a very stylish golfer,” said the 22-year old through a think laugh. “I just do whatever. I guess I have good style. I went to Oakley last year with Kevin Estrada [his Ontario Reign teammate]… he has a sponsorship with them with them through his fishing company and I was able to get some gear.”
Although he didn’t seem to pick up any style tips from the former Kings back-up, Bernier has shared some valuable information with Berube.
“Last year, I texted him when I was called up to Manchester and I ended up being on the bench for about three weeks. When I heard I would be playing a game I texted him to ask what he does after being on the bench for a long time and how he gets ready. He gave me good tips to get prepared for that game. He’s a really humble person. He doesn’t take anything for granted. He’s also been working really hard this summer and I’m sure he’s going to take the number one spot in Toronto.”
With less than 24 hours remaining until he needs to be at the airport though, Berube is ready to turn the page on his summer fun – yet, getting a chance to earn an AHL roster spot isn’t the number one thing on his mind at the moment. That’s been put on the backburner for a hot minute. Right now, there’s something far more critical staring him directly in the face.
“I actually haven’t started packing yet,” Berube acknowledged. “Even though I’m a light traveler and don’t bring a lot of stuff with me, I just want to make sure I have my dress shoes. Those are the most important thing. It’s always the one thing you leave behind, I think. So my dress shoes are sitting right by the front door.”
Perhaps he may have a little style in him after all.
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