Tuesday, May 21, 2013

12 Neat Things About Reto Berra

The IIHF World Championships are complete and other than wishing Reto Berra would have made a few more starts including in the gold medal game, Jay Feaster and the Flames had to have been pleased with what they saw from the Swiss goaltender, who was part of the return Calgary received from St. Louis when Jay Bouwmeester was shipped to the Blues at the trade deadline.

At the time of the trade, Feaster said his scouting staff were divided when it came to which goalie was the best goalie not playing in the NHL -- half liked Karri Ramo and the others thought it was Berra. Well, now the organization has both assuming Ramo, who played the past four years in the KHL, is inked to a contract when be becomes eligible to be signed on July 5.

While most eyeballs have been glued to the NHL playoffs the past couple weeks, I spent some time watching the World Championships as well. While always a challenging tournament to gauge given all the absent talent, I did some digging around over the course of the 17-day event and here, in no particular order, are a dozen things to know about Berra, who will join the Flames at training camp this September.

1. He's a Tall Dude - His old Swiss team Biel lists him as 6-foot-5 and he looks even taller than that. Only one goaltender in Flames history would have looked down on him and that was the old 'Calgary Tower' himself -- Henrik Karlsson, who stood 6-foot-6. The taller goaltenders Calgary has deployed over the years have included Dany Sabourin at 6-foot-4, Roman Turek at 6-foot-3, and a group at 6-foot-2 comprised of Trevor Kidd, Jason Muzzatti, Brian Boucher and Curtis McIlhinney. Of 82 goalies to play in the NHL in 2012-13, only three (Jacob Markstrom, Anders Lindback, Ben Bishop) were taller, putting Berra around the 95th percentile.

2. He Wears a Forward's Number - Berra wore No. 20 for the Swiss National team, he wore No. 20 during his time in the Swiss league. If you are my age, there's one goalie that comes to mind when you see a goalie wearing No. 20 and it's not Evgeni Nabokov. The great Vladislav Tretiak made that number famous for the Soviet Union throughout his sensational international career and in all those great clashes with Team Canada. But, in Calgary, that number belongs to Curtis Glencross so a  new number will be in order.

3. A Mighty Fine Worlds - If you look at the goaltending statistical leaders during the World Championships, at the very top is Buffalo's Jhonas Enroth (1.15 GAA, .956 SV%), who was named the tournament's top goaltender. The only Swiss goaltender listed is Martin Gerber (1.81 GAA, .923 SV%). So, what about Berra who posted a sterling tournament-best 1.00 GAA, .967 SV%?  Well, he didn't qualify for the leaders because the cut-off was having played 40% of his team's minutes, Berra played 39.7%. If he had played just two additional minutes, he would have officially been the leader in both categories.

Now sure, the sample size is still small at four games but 118 saves on 122 shots? Pretty darn good no matter how you slice it. He also drew the start in the pivotal semi-final against the U.S. on Saturday and posted a 29-save shutout. This was the same American team that two days earlier in the quarter-final had racked up eight goals on Russia.

As good as this year's WC was for Berra, he also played four games at the 2012 World Championships with less favourable results. One year ago, he posted an unpleasant 3.01 GAA and .880 SV%.

4. Drafted Seven Long Years Ago - St. Louis selected Berra in the fourth round (106th overall) of the 2006 NHL entry draft. He was the 12th goaltender off the board that year. It was that same draft that in the first round, 26th overall, Calgary selected the soon-to-become former Flame Leland Irving. Other goaltenders in that draft class selected ahead of Berra include Jonathan Bernier (11th), Semyon Varlamov (23rd), Enroth (46th), Steve Mason (69th) and James Reimer (99th). The only goalie selected after Berra that has played >10 NHL games is Richard Bachman (120th).

5. Goaltenders Made in Switzerland - Only 20 Switzerland-born players have made it to the NHL. Three of the top five in terms of service time have been goalies -- Martin Gerber, David Aebischer and Jonas Hiller have all amassed over 200 NHL games. Aebischer (6th round, 1997) was the first to arrive on the scene with Colorado in 2000 at age 22. Gerber (8th round, 2001) was next, debuting with Anaheim in 2002 as a 28-year-old. Hiller, who was undrafted, has been with the Ducks since joining them at age 25 in 2007.

6. Former Teammate of Tyler Seguin - In case you've forgotten, there was this thing called an NHL lockout still going on five months ago. Biel, which was Berra's club team in the Swiss National League A (NLA), is where Boston's Seguin and Chicago's Patrick Kane chose to get in some work and stay sharp while the rest of us were trying to figure out what exactly was a disclaimer of interest. Man, glad that's behind us.

7. Calgary's Former Swiss Miss - So what do the Flames expect from Berra? Historically, Calgary's made two prominent dips into the Swiss player pool at the NHL entry draft and its resulted in a thumbs up and a resounding thumbs down. The success, of course, is Sven Baertschi, plucked 13th overall in 2011. But the first one, not so much did it work out. Six-foot-one defenceman Tim Ramholt spent two years in the minors for the Flames, eventually returning home to play in Switzerland with all of one NHL game on his resume. Nope, that wasn't what General Manager Darryl Sutter was hoping for when he selected him with the second round pick (39th overall) in 2003, one round after selecting Dion Phaneuf. Now 28, Ramholt has played the last four years for Davos.

8. Rare Swiss Mates - If Berra does see NHL time next year alongside Baertschi, it won't be the first time there have been Swiss teammates in the NHL. For the past two seasons, Swiss countrymen Raphael Diaz and Yannick Weber-- an RFA this summer, have been part of the Montreal Canadiens defence corps. Together on the Anaheim Ducks since 2010 have been Hiller and defenceman Luca Sbisa, who was born in Italy but is of Swiss descent. Montreal had a different Swiss duo from 2005 to 2007 in Mark Streit, patrolling the blue-line for the Habs and Aebischer.

9. Beyond the Numbers - During his four years at Biel, Berra's raw stats in the 12-team league have been not overwhelming. This past year, he was 11th in GAA (3.01) and 9th in SV% (.906) among goalies with 10 or more games. For comparison, former Oiler Jussi Markanen, 38, was 2.86 and .910. Tobias Stephan, 29, who made 11 appearances with Dallas a few years back, was 2.66 and .921. That said, by all reports, Berra's team was not very talented and he's credited with getting them into the playoffs this year where as the 8th seed, they faced No. 1 ranked Fribourg and after falling behind 3-0 in their opening playoff series, fought back to win three in a row -- two in shootouts, before losing in game seven.

From this past December, here's a splendid two-save sequence (begins 3:44 into clip) from Berra that made headlines in Yahoo's Puck Daddy column. We know how Miikka Kiprusoff never quit on a puck. If he's got that quality to accompany his giant frame, that bodes well.

10. Could he be Henrik Karlsson 2.0? - For sure, that will be the concern. Their height -- similar.  Their butterfly style -- similar. And Berra will be 26 next September, the same age Karlsson was when he made his Flames debut in 2010. Yet, from what I've seen, Berra seems more comfortable, calm and confident between the pipes than the undrafted Karlson ever was. I guess time will tell but I like Berra much better.

11. His Time in the Alps - Berra has only ever played in Switzerland. He started off not far from home in Zurich before being brought in with much hype to Davos in 2007 to replace Swiss star Hiller, who had departed that summer for the NHL. However, Berra never could solidify himself as the No. 1 guy at Davos and after two years, he signed on with Biel, one of the weaker teams in Switzerland. Viewed by some as a step backwards, it was there he seized the reins as the No. 1 guy and built a reputation as one of the best goaltenders in the league. After four seasons with Biel, Berra's contract expired at the end of the 2012-13 season.

12. Social Media Adoration - When the Berra signing was announced in April, former Oiler first round pick Marc-Antoine Pouliot, a teammate of Berra's this past season, tweeted "Raw talent and a great guy. You deserve it."  Speaking of Twitter, Berra is on it, you can follow him at @RetoBerra.  However, he's no Paul Bissonnette. In fact, he's more the polar opposite. After a strong start with an inaugural tweet last August of "Can't wait for the season to start!!!", Berra's made 42 retweets since and that's it, that's all ladies and gentlemen, 43 tweets total and nothing original since that first one. Too busy concentrating on stopping pucks, I suppose, and the Calgary Flames are just fine with that.

1 comment:

  1. Great article man. Really enjoyed it!