Berdin adjusting to life in North America

The annals of hockey history are filled with all kinds of zany characters who made a living allowing others to blast vulcanized rubber at their heads.

Which is to say that goaltenders would appear to be a bit of a different breed.

And so, we introduce you today to Mikhail Berdin, who is likely going to become a household name around these parts when he’s expected to make his pro debut with the Manitoba Moose this fall.

The 20-year-old from Ufa, Russia, is poised to make the jump after spending the past two years playing for Sioux Falls of the USHL.

Berdin has a big personality, which became evident to many in the sporting world this past season when he scored an empty-net goal and then commenced one of the best on-ice celebrations you’ll ever see.

There were multiple fist-pumps, a fly-by of his own bench and then the kind of millionaire strut back to his crease first made famous by Vince McMahon of the WWE. The video quickly went viral.

“I really wanted to score for all of my career. I had a chance to shoot and I shot. I love Conor McGregor, he’s the best UFC fighter, so I just do what I want (with the celebration),” Berdin said while meeting the media Thursday following another session at Winnipeg’s summer development camp.

He nearly duplicated the feat in the very next game, just missing another empty net.

“I was so close. Everybody was waiting for me to score a second goal, but my (job) is to make saves, not to score goals.”

The Winnipeg Jets selected Berdin with their sixth-round pick in the 2016 NHL draft, impressed with his size (6-3, 180 pounds) and agility.

Berdin is coming off a strong season in which he went 24-13-3 with a 2.65 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.

General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff opted not to tender a qualifying offer earlier this week to goalie Jamie Phillips, who was expected to share duties in the Moose crease next season with No. 1 Eric Comrie.

Cheveldayoff said the decision appears to clear a path for Berdin to step up.

“Yeah, I would think so, it’s one of those things with goalies, especially young ones, you want them to play. But I believe that’s, standing here today, the plan,” Cheveldayoff said earlier this week.

The skills are very apparent but still somewhat raw, not unlike his English. In fact, Berdin initially balked at speaking on Thursday.

“This is too hard for me. Not yet. I don’t understand nothing right now. It’s really hard. In September I’m ready. Not yet,” he said initially.

Then came a follow up question about scoring his goal, and Berdin sprang to life.

“Yeah, what do you want to ask?” he said, before talking for nearly six minutes about all aspects of his life and game.

“It’s really fun here. We have good practice, a good group of guys. It’s a fun time,” he said.

Berdin lived with a billet family in South Dakota the past two years but said his family expects to come to Winnipeg from Russia to help with his next move. It will be their first time in North America.

“I think I’m ready for a step up. I want to play pro,” he said.

The USHL is quickly becoming a popular junior league for NHL clubs to mine for talent, especially when it comes to import goalies. The Canadian Hockey League, in an attempt to develop more homegrown talent, currently has a ban on overseas netminders (although it’s the subject of ongoing review and potential change).

Winnipeg selected another goalie in the sixth round of last weekend’s draft in Dallas in Minnesota-born Jared Moe of the Waterloo Blackhawks.

“It was a really good league, a really good city where I played, good coaches, everything was good. It was a good league for hard work and a step up,” Berdin said.

There were considerations of staying in Russia and playing in the KHL, but Berdin said as a young goalie he would have been limited to a backup role.

“If I play in the KHL, they don’t let me play. I’m young and I need to play,” he said.

Berdin began playing minor hockey as a forward, which may explain where his love of trying to score goals comes from.

“I played one year of forward and after I changed because my team didn’t have a goalie,” he said.

Berdin’s summer plans include returning to Russia to continue training with several NHL players who are also good friends, including Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Mikhail Sergachev.

He was asked Thursday if he was happy to see countryman Alexander Ovechkin finally capture the Stanley Cup.

“I don’t know him. He’s old. I’m younger. My friends are younger,” Berdin said.

He admits to not watching a lot of NHL hockey in his free time but said he was following the Jets this season, including Connor Hellebuyck’s terrific campaign.

“He’s a really good goalie and he helped the team win. Was it 44 games last season? That’s a good record. He’s played really good,” Berdin said.

Berdin said development camp this week has helped him focus on the mental side of the game while working closely with Jets goalie coach and former NHL netminder Wade Flaherty.

He also revealed he’s working on another skill in some of the off-ice sessions.

“How to do interviews,” Berdin said.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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