J-F Berube knew what he was getting himself into this season.
With a pair of NHL-contracted goalies already in the mix, the veteran inked a professional tryout with the Checkers and jumped on as the third goalie on the ice in Charlotte.
“Coming in this year, it’s something that I spoke about with Leo” said Berube, referring to Checkers goalie coach Leo Luongo. “I knew my situation coming in and I knew that I would be the odd-man out to start with.”
But with 12 pro seasons under his belt, he was also well aware of how quickly circumstances can change.
“As we know, a lot of injuries happen with goalies,” said Berube. “There’s call ups and there’s always a lot of movement in the American League in that position. I knew I would get a chance. I didn’t know when, but I knew at some point it would come.”
It was a waiting game for the 31-year-old to start. After starting opening night for Charlotte, his next appearance would be almost two months later on Dec. 10, then a month later on Jan. 11.
The challenge to stay sharp and remain sharp is obviously a steep one, but one that Berube was prepared to tackle head-on.
“I think it takes a lot of composure and trust in the work you put in at practice,” said Berube. “It was something I’ve experienced in the past and I knew how to get prepared for this kind of opportunity. It’s definitely not something that’s easy to do, but it’s something that requires a lot of patience and a lot of trust and that’s part of my ability.”
Eventually, that waiting paid off. After making six appearances through Charlotte’s first 51 games, roster shakeups across the organization would necessitate Berube playing 13 times over the final 21 contests.
“I knew I would be put in tough positions but in a way that’s why they got me,” said Berube. “Because they knew I could do the work. I just wanted to show them that I was fit for that job. It was a process but I’m happy with how it ended.”
As they reconfigured their crease personnel, the Panthers would sign Berube to an NHL deal. The veteran then helped guide Charlotte down the stretch and into the postseason, including one of the biggest performances of the year - a 31-save shutout in a decisive Game 3 to advance the Checkers out of the first round of the playoffs.
“It really helps your confidence as a goalie knowing that someone has your back and believes in you” said Berube. “I think that’s huge. Obviously Florida showed that confidence and trust in me the whole year - from the first time I got the phone call in the summer to the end.”
Heading into another summer of free agency brings with it the usual uncertainty, but Berube can rest assured knowing he held up his end of the bargain and stepped up for his team.
“There’s a lot of things that can happen, that’s why we all have agents” said Berube. “I let my agent deal with that work. I try to put in the work in the season to make his job a little easier when UFA comes. But I have to be aware that I’m getting older too, so I have to see what’s the best for me and my family. Charlotte and the Panthers have been nothing but great organizations.”