Bryan Berard didn’t request a trade from the Ottawa Senators because of their location.
Picked first overall by the Senators in 1995, Berard never played a game for the club. He asked to be dealt after his first and only training camp with Ottawa.
"Obviously I asked for a trade out of Ottawa, but it had nothing to do with it being a Canadian team," Berard said in an interview. "I was happy to go to Ottawa.
"I think a lot of people, especially in Canada, thought that was the reason."
Berard stands as the only American in NHL history to be picked No. 1 overall by a Canadian team, but he may soon be joined by Auston Matthews. Canadian clubs have a 68.5 per cent chance of landing the No. 1 overall selection at Saturday’s draft lottery with the presumptive prize being Matthews, who hails from Scottsdale, Ariz.
Berard insists his decision to request a trade out of Ottawa was due to concerns with the direction of the franchise, led at that time by general manager Randy Sexton. Joining the league as an expansion team in 1992, Ottawa finished last by a mile in its first three seasons preceding the selection of Berard at the ’95 draft in Edmonton.
He came to training camp as an 18-year-old defenceman believing he was good enough to make the team. The Senators decided he was going back to play for the Detroit Vipers of the Ontario Hockey League.
Communication between team and player was lacking, Berard said, and after leaving camp a trade was requested and subsequently granted by Sexton’s replacement, Pierre Gauthier. Berard believed his development was better served elsewhere, notably with the New York Islanders who swung a trade for him in Jan. 1996.
Noting a prominent fumble with 1993 No. 1 overall pick Alexandre Daigle, Berard said the Senators management just didn’t inspire much confidence.
"We didn’t think it was the best place, at that time, the best place for a young player, especially a young defenceman, to develop," Berard said.
Berard was booed when he returned to the Canadian capital. He believes the fans mistakenly thought he wanted out Ottawa so he could play with an American team.
"So really it had nothing to do with that, it was just at that time, it was the franchise and we just didn’t like what direction they were heading," the native of Woonsocket, R.I., said. "I look back, some of the most fun I had was playing in Canadian cities, Edmonton, Calgary. It’s hockey in Canada, you can’t beat it."
In fact, Berard says his favourite time in the NHL was with the Toronto Maple Leafs, an experience that was cut short after fewer than two seasons because of a devastating eye injury that would briefly knock him out of the league.
Only six Americans have ever gone first overall, Hart Trophy favourite Patrick Kane the most recent of which in 2007. Matthews will presumably join that group soon, likely with one of the seven Canadian teams. The Maple Leafs boasting the best lottery odds at 20 per cent.
Berard has seen Matthews play, and has been blown away by the talent. He thinks Matthews, who played this past season in the Swiss Hockey League, will do just fine playing in a Canadian market if that ends up being the case.
Berard, who now works for an investment firm based in New York, advises Matthews to be cognizant of the increased pressure of a Canadian hockey market. Accept the added media requirements, he said, but pay no attention to what’s said.
"Just focus on your play on the ice," said Berard.
The now 39-year-old has no regrets looking back on his own experience two decades later.
"Ottawa definitely turned around their franchise, but it was years after that," he said. "So no I didn’t regret the decision at all."