As he was coming back from one of his many fishing expeditions in Hardy, Virginia, retired goalie Dan Berthiaume received a call from ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna. Having not played in the ECHL since 2004, Berthiaume was completely unaware of why McKenna was calling.
“To be honest, I wasn’t even aware they had a Hall of Fame for the ECHL,” recalls Berthiaume in a phone interview with TheSinBin.net. “It was something that never really crossed my mind and really surprised me. I was touched when I heard from Mr. McKenna I was going to be inducted and it’s a proud moment for me.”
Berthiaume played 364 games in the ECHL and is one of three goalies to have over 200 wins all-time (Nick Vitucci and Marc Magliarditi being the other two), is tied for first with Vitucci for more 20-or-more-win seasons, and held the record for longest winning streak by a goalie for two decades until his 13-game streak from 1994-95 was broken by Jeff Jakaitis in 2014-15 during the South Carolina Stingrays’ amazing run. With all of that, it should be no surprise Berthiaume will be inducted on February 5th into the Hall of Fame.
The goalie they nicknamed “The Bandit” was drafted in the 3rd round of the 1985 Entry Draft by the Winnipeg Jets. After three seasons in the Quebec Major Junior League split between Drummondville and Chicoutimi, the Jets called up Berthiaume to be a part of the “Black Aces” during their playoff run. After the Jets lost the first two of the best-of-five series against the Calgary Flames, Berthiaume remembers the morning of April 12, 1986 like it was yesterday.
“That morning, (coach and GM) John Ferguson called me and told me to show up to the main team practice,” said Berthiaume. “After the practice, the coaches had their meeting and Mr. Ferguson came up to me and said, ‘You’re in net, kid.’ It was quite the feeling. However, first shot against me, Joe Mullen comes up the right side and puts one high-glove and they were up 1-0.”
That game got better for Berthiaume though, who stopped 39 of 43 in an overtime loss to the Flames. During the handshake line, Berthiaume said that late coach “Badger” Bob Johnson shook his hand and told him the would make a great NHL goalie going forward.
Berthiaume would go on to have a substantial career in the NHL, playing in 215 games and posting an 81-90-21 career record with Winnipeg, Boston, Ottawa, Minnesota, and Los Angeles. In his time with Los Angeles, Berthiaume played alongside the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Luc Robitaille, and his favorite player, Larry Robinson. While that may seem like an overload on talent and possibly egos, Berthiaume remembers that time fondly.
“It didn’t matter if you were a rookie or someone like Larry Robinson, you were treated with the same respect as anyone on that team,” stated Berthiaume. “That’s what I think made us so successful was that everyone has the same responsibility and everyone was looked at as an equal.”
After his time in Los Angeles, Berthiaume went to Austria, but before long, John Ferguson was on the line again to see if he wanted to play in Ottawa for the rest of the 1992-93 season. While Berthiaume admitted the EC Graz staff treated him well, he wanted to go back to North America to see if he could rejuvenate his career in the NHL. After playing 25 of the last 40 games that season and only one game in 1993-94 after being the last goalie cut at camp, Berthiaume made his journey to the ECHL.
“There are paths that God wants you to go down and the ECHL was one that was chosen for me,” says Berthiaume. “There are no hard feelings about it and it turned out great for me. I met my wife in Roanoke, we raised our family, and we have our business here. Not much more you could ask for.”
From 1994-95, Berthiaume spent parts of seven seasons with the Roanoke Express with his best season coming in 2000-01 with him going 26-17-1 with a 2.40 GAA and .918 save percentage. His last two seasons in the ECHL, he played for the Greensboro Generals and recorded his only 30-win season in the ECHL in 2002-03. Other stops along the way in the minors included time with the Wheeling Nailers, Detroit Vipers (IHL), Central Texas Stampede (WPHL), and Port Huron Beacons (UHL) to add to his AHL experience during his early days with the Adirondack Red Wings, Prince Edward Island Senators, and Moncton Hawks. However, the league that Berthiaume played in is a far cry from what he remembers.
“There were very few affiliations for those ECHL teams at the time and the guys the NHL teams did send down, they usually did just to have and keep an eye out on,” recalled Berthiaume. “It was mostly an older players’ league, but I met a lot of great people down there and had a great time. Maybe the bus rides weren’t so great, but my time in Roanoke and Greensboro was top notch. However, I’m glad for what Mr. McKenna and the league have done to make it more of a developmental league and my hat is off to them. I look at the transaction pages and it’s great to see how many ECHL guys are getting moved up.”
Admittedly, Berthiaume got burnt out on hockey towards the end of his tenure in the ECHL. He would usually put in long days driving two hours to Greensboro, practice, then driving two hours back. By the end of it, injuries were taking their toll before Berthiaume finally hung up the pads. After a few years away from the game, Berthiaume is back in a coaching role with Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia working with the goalies.
“We’re only a club team in the ACHA, but we’re getting there in terms of talent,” said Berthiaume. “The school treats us top-notch and maybe even spoils the kids a bit with all their gear provided for them, except skates. But we have a great staff with coach Kirk Handy helping build the program and being alongside former ECHL player Jeff Boettger and former NHLer Marc-Andre Bourdon— we have an amazing team coming through the college ranks.”
In addition to Liberty, Berthiaume will be in close proximity to the next SPHL team, the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs. Berthiaume has said he talked to owner Bob McGinn and has said he would offer to help the team in recruiting and whatever ice time they could need. Excited about the team, Berthiaume hopes the area will give the team and league a chance.
“They are very smart fans in Roanoke, but I hope they understand that this isn’t the old ECHL,” says Berthiaume. “The league is still growing and is better than it was years ago. The fans have to remember that Mr. McGinn is from Canada and chose our area to put a team for the city to enjoy. I hope they don’t judge before it gets started.”
Towards the end of his hockey career, Berthiaume’s wife brought up the idea of him becoming a fishing guide for charter tours along the Smith Mountain Lake area where they live. While he didn’t think much of it at first, Berthiaume got his certification on a trip to Orlando with his family in Disney World, and Captain Bert’s Fishing Charters was born.
“I always liked fishing with my dad when I was young,” recalled Berthiaume. “We fished for walleye and northern pike mostly, but now it’s about striped bass. These are fish that are saltwater fish that were introduced to freshwater for predator control. They have a lot of fight to them and can get beyond 50 pounds. It’s been 12 years since we started and you have good days and bad– just like in goal, but meeting new people and taking them out has been a great time for me.”
With his long history not only in the NHL, ECHL, and Roanoke, I would have been remiss if I didn’t ask Berthiaume about one of the most famous posters in the hockey world, which was a promotion that was thrown together seemingly at the last minute.
“I have no clue how it started,” Berthiaume recalled with a chuckle. “I think 7-11 just wanted two players to put on promotional posters to sell. So, they got me with a little bandit mask over my eyes and a bag of pucks that was supposed to be like money and they put Pokey Reddick in a cop hat, sunglasses, and had handcuffs. It was a great time because he and I were at the top of the goalie statistics to start the season. We got $500 for doing it and they made 50,000 posters to sell for 99-cents each. They were sold out within hours. If I had known that, I would have asked for more money.”
Through his ups and down, Berthiaume always kept a positive attitude and still holds his memories of playing at the very front of his mind. With the track record he had in the ECHL, it’s a well-deserved Hall of Fame induction alongside others who help build the league into what it has become.
Featured photo by Suzamboni Productions