Friday, October 08, 2010

Noel-Bernier right at home with Jacks

By Christopher Heimerman

As Dave Noel-Bernier sits in his office adjacent to the Muskegon Lumberjacks’ new workout facility, he couldn’t feel more at home.

“I love this town and I love the United States Hockey League,” the former Muskegon Fury skater and current Lumberjacks assistant coach said. “I’m a small town guy, so this is perfect. It’s a decent-sized city, but it’s got everything – the lakes, the dunes and the trails. I’m an outdoorsy kind of guy.”

But what really puts him at ease is peering through his office window and seeing how hard his players are working.

“They just keep working,” Noel-Bernier said. “All I’ve got to do is look out this little window and I see what a group of hard-working guys we’ve got.”

Noel-Bernier, along with Jacks head coach Kevin Patrick, has put the unique terrain Muskegon offers to use in order to put the Jacks through a training camp unlike any they’d previously faced.

The players arrived at the end of August and spent the first week strictly training off the ice, conquering such activities as pounding out reps in the weight room and running the dunes along the lakeshore.

But the demanding regimen came with an underlying promise.

“It was established from the first day that we’d be able to do anything as long as we do it as a team,” said Jacks captain John Parker.

Parker, who is committed to play hockey at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, vividly remembers one of the team’s first tasks – scaling the massive dunes in under 12 seconds.

“When everyone finished that, it was a really big accomplishment for the team,” Parker said. “Then we knew – as a team – we can do anything.”

Right winger Matt Berry, who will play college hockey at Michigan State University, admits that he needed to acclimate to the weight-training expectations.

“It takes a while to get used to; I started off not doing much and I’d get really sore during the weeks,” Berry said. “You start to see the results and your weights go up – you get happy about it. It gives you motivation to keep going and keep working hard.”

Noel-Bernier, 34, is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning coach who has developed his program very scientifically.

“Everything we do in here, it’s stuff that I’ve done,” Noel-Bernier said. “I know what’s good and what’s bad. Coach Patrick and I believe in our program and know what it can do for them. Not only now, but in the future.”

Noel-Bernier played two seasons with the Muskegon Fury and was a member of the team that hoisted the Colonial Cup in 2004. When the Lumberjacks opened their inaugural season in the USHL at the L.C. Walker Arena on Saturday, Oct. 2, his heart swelled with pride as he watched his old skating grounds fill up.

The winger also played four seasons in the European professional ranks. After retiring, he returned to his alma mater, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he served as the director of hockey operations and the strength and conditioning coach.

After urging his college pupils to push themselves to their limits, he’s been blown away by the Jacks’ resolve.

“I think they’ve done a phenomenal job,” Noel-Bernier said. “They love to be pushed. They don’t complain. They just do what they’re told to do.”

And, being with the team nearly every day – whether it be on the ice, on a bus or otherwise - the staff has quickly learned just how much to tell them.

“You’ve got to know how far to push them before you stop and give them rest,” Noel-Bernier said. “You’ve got to find that balance.

“We’re taking that training camp and building on it. We’re not where we want to be still, but we’re getting closer every week.”

- Christopher Heimerman is the Muskegon Lumberjacks’ broadcaster and communications director. He can be reached at

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