Flames’ goalie prospect Berra using development camp to hone small-ice skills
Swiss stopper used to larger Olympic-sized surfaces
Baby-faced teens, some chosen in the National Hockey League draft as recently as 10 days ago, are sauntering around him in sweat-drenched T-shirts.
Reto Berra’s own draft day? Way back in 2006.
Not that he’s offended by the company he’s currently keeping. Well, just a bit.
“Yeah, I feel a little bit old here,” the 26-year-old, smiling, said Wednesday after fitness testing at the University of Calgary.
But Berra had actually asked the Calgary Flames if he could attend this week’s development camp, knowing full well the wide-eyed status of the other participants. Simply put — the six-foot-five netminder needed to get some work on the smaller ice surface before main camp.
“I wanted to go on the ice . . . because the ice is different,” said Berra, a native of Bulach, Switzerland. “I have to get into it. I have to be ready when I come in September, so I thought it was a great opportunity for me to come here.”
Berra, part of the return in the Jay Bouwmeester trade with the St. Louis Blues, is in the mix — with Karri Ramo and Joey MacDonald — for the Flames’ starting role.
He likes the sound of that.
“(Playing in the NHL) was always my dream,” he said. “As a player, when it’s on the table, you have to take it. I’m going to prepare myself as good as I can and try to give my best. I’m really happy to be here. It’s a great chance for me to take the next big step in my career. Now I’m here. The coaches (especially Bob Hartley who spent 2011-12 in Zurich) know me from the Swiss league. So I’m really happy.”
Making the leap from Switzerland is not unthinkable, not after Berra’s recent star turn at the world championship — four appearances, goals-against average of 1.00, save percentage of .967.
“At the worlds, I played against a lot of NHL guys and I did pretty good,” he said. “That was a big stage — also world juniors (2006 and 2007). We did pretty well, Switzerland, this year (at the world championship). So, for sure, it’s a good point for my bag of things . . . the games that I played there. I felt really, really comfortable. I played with a lot of confidence.
“I think maybe that impressed a couple of people here and in Switzerland, too.”
With a chuckle, he did note that in the 4-2 win over the Czechs, he surrendered both goals to Jiri Hudler — someone, he dearly hopes, is a future teammate.
The transition from European hockey is not unmanageable. Just obvious.
“For sure, the smaller rink makes for a goalie a lot of different things,” explained Berra, “because the angles are different and everything. We will see this week how that works. At the world juniors, 2006 in Vancouver, I felt pretty good on the smaller rink. But now I’ve played for a long time not on smaller rinks. That’s a big difference and a challenge for me.”
Drafted by the Blues in the fourth round — seven picks after James Reimer went to the Toronto Maple Leafs — Berra attended two summer camps in St. Louis.
But that’s it.
“Now I can play maybe in Canada for Calgary — that’s better than in St. Louis,” said Berra, grinning. “I like Canada more. I’m really happy.”
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