The loud and clear message from Avalanche HQ: We will stand pat on deadline day--unless we can improve our hockey club for the present and the future. Apparently, that "unless" comes in the form of Swiss goaltender Reto Berra.
Berra was acquired from the Calgary Flames, where he was being used basically as their NHL backup on accident. The The 6'4 27-year old was originally drafted by the St. Louis Blues and was twice named Swiss National League A (NLA) Goaltender of the Year. (Past winners of this award include Jonas Hiller and Cristobal Huet.) However, this season is his first foray onto North American ice, where he has split time between the Calgary Flames and their AHL affiliate Abbotsford Heat.
Career so far
Reto Berra first entered the professional scene in the Swiss B league (NLB) as a 16 year old, where he played 4 seasons for GCK Lions. He also backstopped Team Switzerland in the 2006 U20 World Championships, where he put up a .910 SV% over 6 games; the Blues used a 4th round pick on him at the following NHL Entry Draft. Berra chose to stay in Europe, where he signed with NLA powerhouse HC Davos in 2007 (who subsequently loaned him to Langnau and Zug in 2008-09). He played 32 games between those clubs and won a Swiss title as a backup with Davos in 2009 (Elite Prospects).
Berra took over starting duties for EHC Biel in the 2009-10 season, which is when you finally start seeing proper SV% numbers cited. (Seriously, Europe. That's not a hard one to report.) The first two seasons saw Biel in relegation rounds. But his best season was 11-12, when he was first named Goalie of the Year for putting up a .916 SV% (still with a GAA of 2.44, for some context of that team) and bringing Biel with him to the NLA playoffs (Elite Prospects).
We've got some real data from HockeyDB for last year, so let's really dig into this one. Berra posted a .906 SV% in 49 games (they only play 50, so this is a workhorse load for the NLA). That means he probably faced 1585 shots over his 2973 minutes, or roughly 32 SA/60. For comparison, only 4 NHL teams have given up more this season: Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, and Buffalo (Extra Skater). So that's kind of a lot. His rights were traded from St. Louis to Calgary that season as part of the Jay Bouwmeester deal. Berra also grabbed NHL attention again that summer by helping the Swiss World Championships team to silver with a sparkling .967 SV% in the 4 games he saw (Elite Prospects).
Over the past summer, Berra signed a 1-year deal with the Flames and came overseas for the first time. In 9 games with the Heat he posted a .908 SV%, and has been with the big club since. That definitely was not the plan--Karri Ramo has been injured for a good portion of the season--and perhaps his inexperience with the North American game has shown. Despite opening his career with a 42-save win over Chicago, Berra is 9-17-2 with Calgary this season, with a .897 SV%.
You may also have seen him in the Sochi Olympics with Team Switzerland in a 30-save effort that was ultimately a loss to Sweden during the Group C prelims. It was 1-0, because Team Switzerland so of course it was. RUN SUPPORT!!!
Berra is generally regarded everywhere I've seen as a big guy who is more athletic than you might expect, but overly aggressive. Remember this one?
Here, in the shootout against Nashville, he is BEAT. Dead to rights. Nope.
Here he finds himself way, way out of position, and still recovers to make the pad save.
These are highlights obviously but show that we have here a sizeable guy, still adjusting to North American ice, probably not yet ready for the speed of the NHL but thrust into it anyway, with tremendous athleticism and recovery ability; his weak point probably is positioning. Remind you of anyone?
It's likely to take more than the 20 games the Avs have with him for Allaire to turn him into an NHL backup, so here's hoping they can get him signed this summer.
Here's some interviews with him from the Flames' official site. Speaking adorable English at development camp and talking about how he likes Calgary because of its mountains reminding him of home (lol Denver):
On his most recent mask and its, er, "feeders":
On being traded:
The plan for Berra is to be a sort of insurance backup goalie as Giguere has been down in the back too frequently for a playoff team's liking. The Avs will carry all 3 goalies for the remainder of the season. With Giguere's future uncertain and the prospects not seasoned enough for Sakic and Roy's liking, Berra looks to be a sort of stopgap #2.
"We wanted to make sure that if something happens to Varly, we have a good guy there if Jiggy's back doesn't hold up," Sakic said. "We have someone we know is a very good goalie. If Varly went down, the prospects aren't ready, so we wanted to make sure we solidified that goalie situation for the next few years."
Welcome to the Avs, Reto!