LEWISTON – Jonathan Bernier stole away from a recent photo session with his full goaltending gear on and took his position between the pipes at the far end of the Colisee.

Some of his Lewiston Maineiacs teammates followed and started firing pucks at him.

Showing he hasn’t forgotten how to handle himself in the crease, Bernier snagged pucks out of the air with his big glove, and sent others to the corners with his blocker.

He never went down into his butterfly, though.

That, he said, would come later.

“It’s always tough, having to sit and watch your teammates play,” Bernier said. “I want to be out there, but this is part of hockey. I have to make a recovery and bounce back after.”

Bernier injured his right ankle in a road game against Halifax on Jan. 25 while sliding across his crease. His right skate blade caught an edge, and his momentum carried him too far, causing a bone bruise.

“I’ve never – touch wood – I’ve never been injured like this,” Bernier said. “I’ve never missed a game for injury, so this is pretty long for me. It’s hard, because it’s easy to be so negative.”

Bernier hobbled off the ice. Upon his return to Lewiston, doctors told the Los Angeles Kings’ No. 1 draft pick that he would require six weeks to completely heal.

“(The Kings) been calling me every three or four days to find out if I’ve been on the ice and how that is going,” Bernier said. “They want to know about me. That’s a good thing, too, to know that they care so much.”

Bernier did go back onto the ice, to test his reflexes. He’d been in the gym religiously, but seeing rubber was entirely different.

“I just went on the ice to be there,” Bernier said. “It was a little earlier than the schedule the doctor gave me, but I was just sick of not being on the ice, and I wanted to see some shots, so I went on the ice just to stay in the net and feel the puck hit me and keep my reflexes sharp.”

“A hockey player is like a horse,” Maineiacs’ head coach Clem Jodoin said. “The horse always wants to run. The hockey player always wants to play. It’s been a tough situation for the last month.”

The target for Bernier’s return was this weekend.

But last Friday, Bernier felt a twinge in the same ankle when he went behind his net to play a puck in practice at the K.C. Irving Regional Centre in Bathurst, New Brunswick.

“We were working on breakouts,” Bernier said. “I went behind my net, and I caught a crack on the ice and fell down, and it did something like when I first got injured. My ankle just twisted to the outside.”

“I didn’t want to think about it,” Jodoin said as he leaned back in his chair, put his hands on his head and moaned. “I didn’t even want to imagine what happened.”

This time, the swelling went down quickly. By Monday morning, Bernier was walking without a limp. But as a precaution, he want for an MRI exam on his ankle.

“I already went for two X-rays, and we found some things from an old injury, but it’s hard to see on an X-ray,” Bernier said. “With the MRI, we can see everything, my bone bruise, my ligaments, everything. We just wanted to make sure everything was OK, more mentally for me. If I go back on the ice and I am not confident, I will be scared to be re-injured.”

Wednesday morning, results showed that Bernier’s discomfort is still, in fact, coming from his high ankle sprain. The MRI results showed no other damage to his ankle, and his return will depend on his comfort level.

“Everything was fine,” Jodoin said. “Everything is consistent with a high-ankle sprain, and that those will still take five or six weeks, and it hasn’t been that long yet.”

Meanwhile, in his place, Lewiston rookie Peter Delmas will play his 15th consecutive game tonight. Since taking over for Bernier, Delmas is 8-6 with 44 goals against.

“He’s given us a chance to win every game but one,” Jodoin said. “Other than that, he’s been there for us the whole time, and we have to play well in front of him.”

Even Bernier has been impressed with Delmas’ play in the last 14 games.

“(Delmas) is doing great right now,” Bernier said. “He makes some saves to keep us in games, and this is all going to help him for next year, too. He’s learning what it’s like to be a full-time first goalie.”

Lewiston begins its toughest stretch of the final part of the season tonight in Gatineau against the Olympiques. The Maineiacs then head north to Rouyn-Noranda and Val d’Or for games Friday and Saturday night.

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