From the Maineiacs to the Monarchs: Cliche, Bernier find their niche

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The last time Marc-Andre Cliche skated with a team at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, he wore a ‘C’ on the left side of his sweater, and the Lewiston Maineiacs were halfway to a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League final series sweep over the Val d’Or Foreurs.

More than 3,600 people packed the building for Game 2 on May 5, 2007. Cliche was quiet that night. But he was the captain. He was steady. He’d been a big piece of a 4-0 win one night earlier, and even if the stats don’t necessarily bear it out, he was a big piece of the Maineiacs’ 4-3 victory in Game 2 as well.

One week later, the team returned to Lewiston from Val d’Or, President’s Trophy raised triumphantly above Cliche’s bearded face. He said goodbye to the fans one last time before the team shipped out to Vancouver for the Memorial Cup.

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The last time Jonathan Bernier skated with that team at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, his orange, blue and white pads were covered in black rubber marks, and the Lewiston Maineiacs were halfway to a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League final series sweep over the Val d’Or Foreurs.

More than 3,600 people packed the building for Game 2 on May 5, 2007. Bernier stood on his head that night. He was the goalie. By this point of the season, it was expected. He’d been a stone wall in nearly every game he’d played all season, and the stats bore that out. He’d pitched a shutout in a 4-0 victory the night before.

One week later, the team returned to Lewiston from Val d’Or, President’s Trophy raised triumphantly over Bernier’s bearded face. He said thank you to the fans one last time that season, and the team shipped out to Vancouver for the Memorial Cup.

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Bernier went on to play one more season in Lewiston, but for many people in the community, the enduring image of Bernier is a snapshot of an 18-year-old netminder sandwiched at the bottom of a pile of players with a large, glistening trophy on the ice in front of them, celebrating victory in Val d’Or.

All that remains at the Colisee from that season are a pair of banners, hanging from the rafters on each side of the scoreboard at center ice.

And the memories.

“I’m very, very excited, I can’t wait to come back,” Cliche said.

“It’s going to be great, for sure,” Bernier said. “Me and Cliche, we’re going to be pumped. It’s going to be great to play in front of those fans that we played in front of for four years.”

Cliche and Bernier return to the Colisee on Sunday with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League to square off against the Portland Pirates in the Pirates’ second of two regular-season home games at the Lewiston venue.

Both will likely skate into the building with a little bit of an extra jump in their steps. Two separate call-ups about a week apart allowed both former Maineiacs to skate in an NHL regular-season game for the first time this season.

Cliche earned his chance coming out of the NHL’s Olympic break. A defensive forward, Cliche skated for the Monarchs’ parent club, the Los Angeles Kings, on March 2. The Kings defeated the Dallas Stars, 5-1. Cliche was a plus-1 with no points or penalty minutes while playing a little more than seven minutes, including more than a minute on the penalty kill.

“It was just a dream come true,” Cliche said. “When you’re a little kid, that’s what you dream about. I was trying to take everything in. The best part, after the national anthem, Sean O’Donnell took his glove off, came over and shook my hand and said, ‘Welcome, kid.’ That was big for me.”

Cliche’s call-up was a just reward, said Manchester coach Mark Morris.

“It was a tribute to him, to his work ethic,” Morris said. “He’s been an absolute warrior for us. He’s such a reliable player; he’s strong on the puck, he can scrap, he blocks shots and he’s a tremendous penalty killer. He doesn’t score a ton, but when he scores, they’re usually pretty big goals. That’s one of the reasons he’s wearing a letter this year.”

As for the scrapping part, something Cliche rarely — if ever — did in Lewiston?

“I don’t ever remember seeing him lose one,” Morris said. “He does a pretty good job of it. It’s not always his job out there, but he knows when he has to step up and do something.”

In his last game against Portland, Cliche dropped the mitts with Joe DiPenta.

“I was just mad,” Cliche said, starting to laugh. “I hate losing, I had to do something.”

Bernier, meanwhile, saw his patience pay off on March 12.

After playing in four NHL games in the fall of 2007, the Kings returned Bernier to the Maineiacs. The following year, he began the season with Manchester. A bit soured, he played well, but not to the level the Kings expected.

“I was upset for sure, I wanted to play in the NHL,” Bernier said. “But this year, I really worked on my preparation. They told me to stay patient and be as good as I could be in the AHL.”

Bernier made the AHL all-star game this season. He even started. Last week, with Kings’ goaltender Jonathan Quick away from the team while his wife gave birth to their first child, Los Angeles recalled Bernier. Coach Terry Murray gave the rookie another shot. Ironically, that game was also against the Stars.

“There’s no way we’d even be in the conversation for the playoffs this year if it wasn’t for (Bernier),” Morris said. “He’s been great for us as we work a lot of younger players, a lot of rookies into the mix. He’s been our eraser back there.”

Thrown into the fire, Bernier gave the Kings something to think about for the future. He won his game in Dallas, 2-1, in a shootout.

“I was really excited that the coach was confident enough in me that I played,” Bernier said. “That was a big two points for them, and the result was good, too. It was a special day, for sure.”

Armed with a new attitude and even more confidence, Bernier, 21, continues to lead the Monarchs with his play on the ice.

“You can tell that inner confidence of his spreads throughout the locker room,” Morris said. “He gives us a chance to win every time out.”

Confidence may give way to a few jitters — at least at first.

“I don’t even think I’ve ever been in (the visiting) locker rooms (at the Colisee),” Bernier said. “It’s kind of funny a little bit, but I think it will be a good experience for me to go back on the ice there.”

“I was talking about that with him,” Cliche said. “We were laughing about it. It’s going to be pretty weird to be on the other side. I’m actually pretty nervous, to see what it will be like with the fans and everything, but I know it’s going to bring good memories to have friends and family in the stands again, like back in the day. It’s going to be a good feeling.”

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