Reto Berra: That’s Right, he’s Legit


Colorado Avalanche goalie Reto Berra has quietly become a legitimate NHL goal tender, a man who might not be an elite goalie or even the top goalie, but one who’s at least on par with James Reimer of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

That may not seem like a big compliment. However, you have to remember that coming into this season, Berra wasn’t even sure what job he’d have. After Calvin Pickard‘s impressive play last season, head coach Patrick Roy stated the two would come into training camp and fight for the job as Semyon Varlamov‘s backup.

Now, coach Roy is tapping him to start over Varlamov himself (who’s actually gone onto injured reserve).

Goal Tending Controversy

The party line is that there’s no goal tending controversy in Colorado. Indeed, coach Roy has started saying that Semyon Varlamov is the reason he won the Jack Adams for coaching after the 2013-14 season. Now, I don’t remember his saying that at the time, nor did it come up last season. But the party line is that Semyon Varlamov is the #1 goalie in Colorado.

The reality is that somehow Reto Berra is playing so much better. He’s the proud owner of a 1.50 goals against average and .953 save percentage. Both of those are good enough for first in the entire NHL. Berra is currently 4-3-0.

Varlamov, by contrast, is 3-6-1. He’s the not-so-proud owner of a 3.26 goals against average and .890 save percentage. In case you’re wondering, that’s good enough for 38th and 39th respectively in the NHL.

Now, Varlamov is on injured reserve because of a groin injury. Groin injuries plagued him last season. He tended to succumb to them when he was still with the Washington Capitals.

It’s been suggested that his current groin injury might be what got him off to such a slow start. However, Varlamov has only ever had the one really good season — that year he apparently won Patrick Roy’s award for him (41-14-6). Otherwise, he went 26-24-3 in the 2011-12 season and 28-20-8 last season.

I’m not suggesting that Reto Berra’s going to take over as the Avalanche’s numero uno. I am, however, saying that Berra can take on a lot more of the heavy lifting than we expected until Pickard comes of age. (GM Joe Sakic has already stated Pickard is going to be in Colorado next season, though it may be as back up at first.)

Colorado doesn’t have a goal tending controversy, but during a post-game presser head coach Roy recently responded to the question “Is Berra your #1?” with “He’s our #1 for right now because he’s playing. As long as he plays, he’s our #1.”

The Legitimizing of Reto Berra

I liked Reto Berra even when he was still with the Calgary Flames. I had watched him play in the Olympics for Switzerland. He was very impressive, and he had good moves for the Flames as well. Remember his bicycle kick save?

What I saw there was a player who had the instincts and some of the raw talent of a Dominik Hasek (I could never figure out how he stopped anything much less practically everything.)

When Berra got traded to the Colorado Avalanche, I was ecstatic. I’d never had a player I already liked traded to my team before.

Unfortunately, not too many people in Avs Nation shared my enthusiasm. He was so awful in his debut, and then when he got another chance, coach Roy had to pull him. I was perplexed.

Last season started off similarly, but Berra ended the season solidly — with his first NHL shutout, to be exact. Now, he’s come in looking like a whole new goalie.

So, what changed?

I like to “blame” Francois Allaire — or thank him anyway. Allaire must be a wizard of a goalie coach.

Remember what Allaire did for Patrick Roy. He took the man’s raw talent and divine will to win and helped Roy transform that into a goalie style so effective it’s the gold standard for the position today. It’s funny — it’s hard to find “impressive” Patrick Roy saves because he made the butterfly style look machine-like in its precision. That‘s the impressive part on its own.

Allaire worked a similar magic with Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov came to the Avalanche as a talented underachiever with Washington. He continued to pretty much underachieve with Colorado until Patrick Roy became the head coach — and named Francois Allaire the goalie coach. Allaire worked with Varlamov, and suddenly the Russian became machine-like in his goal tending precision.

Now we’ve got the wonders he’s worked with Berra. Reto Berra has attended Allaire’s goalie camps in Switzerland many times — including the last three summers. He’s also been working very closely with the coach, according to Roy. The result is Reto Berra has gotten legit. Check out his confidence and, yes, precision:

That may not be the most impressive of saves, but remember, this is a player who looked slow and lethargic in his Colorado Avalanche debut:

Well, we can see why Reto Berra didn’t impress many Avalanche fans at the time.

Anyway, like I said, Berra is unlikely to be the permanent answer for Colorado in net. However, he appears to be a legitimate solution until our future numero uno, Calvin Pickard, is ready to fully take over.