WJC update: A lot to like about Brett Berard

One New York Rangers prospect played on the tournament’s first day

New York Rangers fans should be very pleased from what they saw from prospect Brett Berard in the first game of the World Juniors Championships for Team USA.  Berard was very noticeable and was one of the more effective Team USA forwards.

From the early going, it looked like the team from United States and Canada will have a distinct disadvantage.  The simple reason is that players from North America are very rusty with some not playing in as many as nine months.  Most of the players on Team Russia have been playing for months and it showed.

Russia beat the United States 5-3, but the Americans made it a much closer game by a furious comeback in the third period.  They were able to pull within in a goal on a power play goal by Trevor Zegras with the goalie pulled, but an empty net sealed the win for Russia.

USA goalie Spencer Knight didn’t have a good night and was pulled at the 12:15 minute mark of the second period after he sent an errant clearing pass to Ilya Safonov who easily put it in the unguarded net.  Dustin Wolf shut the Russians out the remaining period and a half, but the hole that USA had dug was too deep.

Berard’s game

Brett Berard is a left wing who was drafted in the fifth round of the NHL Draft in October. He played most of the game on a line with Bobby Brink (Flyers 2nd round 2019)  and John Farinacci (Coyotes 3rd round 2019).

Berard is small at 5’9″ and 163 pounds, but he showed quickness and feistiness.  Berard had a good scoring opportunity early in the second period.  Berard led the rush into the Russia zone and got the pass to Brink who had a wide open net, but he shot it wide.

During a shift change, Berard had another rush and scoring opportunity playing with Caul Caufield (Canadiens 1st round 2019) and Matthew Beniers (2021 draft).

Berard was on the ice for the third Russian goal, but it was a turnover by defenseman Jake Sanderson (Senators 1st round 2020) who shuffled the puck to Berard in the USA zone, but his pass was inaccurate and Vasili Ponomaryov put it home.

The Ranger prospect showed his moxie with about two minutes left in the second period, going to the net to hack at a rebound and ending up on the bottom of a pile up in the crease.

John Farinacci got the USA comeback started with a goal at 9:57 of the third period and it was mostly off the hard work of Berard.  The left wing led the rush into the Russian zone and took a slapshot that Yaroslav Askarov stopped with his chest.   Askarov was the top goalie taken in the 2020 draft (Predators 1st round 2020) and all evening he showed a habit of giving up rebounds and this was no different.

Watching the goal, it’s Berard (#21) who is screening Askarov while Brinks gets to the rebound.

Team USA held the puck in the Russian zone and Farinacci was able to put home a rebound with Berard harassing Askarov in front of the crease.

Team USA Coach Nate Leaman complimented the third and fourth lines telling the NHL Network “I thought our third and fourth lines sparked us.  They were really willing to get it behind them and grind them.”  Leaman knows Berard well as he is his coach at Providence College.

Berard ended up playing 16 shifts and 9:52 minutes of ice time.  He didn’t see any ice time on the power play or penalty kill.  His plus/minus rating was even and he had two shots on goal, tied for third most on the team.  He was one of USA’s best players at creating offense.

The other Ranger prospect on team USA is defenseman Hunter Skinner, but he didn’t dress for this game.  That may be a disappointment for Rangers fans, but the work Berard did as a spark plug for Team USA was very impressive.  One question is whether Coach Leaman will shake up his lines and move Berard up, based on his play.

Two other games and Saturday’s schedule

Slovakia defeated Switzerland 1-0 and Finland  beat Germany 5-3 in the two other games on the first day of the tournament.  It was an heroic effort by Germany, crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic.  They could only dress 15 skaters compared to 20 for Finland.

There are two games on Saturday involving Rangers prospects as Team Canada takes on Germany at 6pm EST and Team USA plays Austria at 9:30pm.  Both games will be carried live by the NHL Network.