Unmasked: Jonathan Bernier
Jonathan Bernier is as cool off the ice as he is inside the crease.
There is a certain atmosphere of chill that surrounds Jonathan Bernier. As the starting goaltender for the Toronto Maple Leafs, he’s known for being ice cold calm under pressure – an indispensable trait for anyone playing in the most pressure-packed hockey market on the planet.
Yet there’s another, lesser-known side to Bernier that’s on show during our photo shoot. He is laid-back, accommodating and clearly comfortable in his own skin, casually stripping down to his skivvies in front of everyone as he changes into the clothes we’ve brought to the set.
Bernier’s David Beckham/John Varvatos hybrid style has quietly made him one of the best-dressed and – groomed players in the National Hockey League – traditionally a hothouse of brute culture in which the level of fashion sense often amounts to proudly sporting stitches, scars and playoff beards rather than designer suits, luxury watches and stylish shoes.
League-wide, Bernier has joined the ranks of fellow NHL goalies known for their style, including Ryan Miller of the Vancouver Canucks, Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers and Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers. Bernier says that he prefers to keep it conservative yet classy when he’s heading to work for a game, whether it’s at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto or any of the other 29 arenas in the NHL. Away from the rink, however, he lets his grittier, less-polished side come out to play.
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“The way I look at it is you want to have your own style,” says Bernier. “I like to be really dressy when I wear my suits – a three-piece or a bow tie, things like that – but I have an edgier rock look when I’m not going to a hockey game or charity thing. When I am everyday dressing, it’s a little more rock-y.”
That edgier aspect of Bernier includes a heavily inked upper body and, of course, his signature undercut – the ultimate antithesis to the iconic hockey mullet. He has worn several versions of the undercut over the past four years, but it wasn’t until he was traded to Toronto in the summer of 2013 that he took the sides right down to the wood. He likes that it’s simple to style and needs only a little wax to maintain. He gets it cut every three weeks, although sometimes he’ll shave the sides himself and have his fiancée – underwear model Martine Forget – do the back. “Having this haircut and my tattoos, I think people can really recognize you easier,” he says. “It’s funny when kids go to get their hair cut and they ask for the ‘Bernier.’”
Despite having a fiancée in the fashion industry, Bernier can take credit for his own style. He shops by himself, often on the street, where he’s less likely to get noticed, and receives little input from Forget.
“Sometimes I’ll be like ‘Why didn’t you buy me something today?’ and she’ll be like ‘I have no style for men,’” says Bernier. “I enjoy going shopping for myself, and she really doesn’t have any influence on what I wear.”
Bernier says his style is continually evolving because he doesn’t get attached to anything he owns. Instead, he routinely empties his closet of clothes he doesn’t wear regularly and then goes out to restock it, often with suits customized by Garrison Bespoke in Toronto. Bernier calls Varvatos his go-to designer and cites Beckham as someone whose style he follows closely. “I got the chance to meet him a few times, and I think he’s just a very humble guy,” says Bernier. “He knows how to dress up for events or just regular, day-to-day style. He’s not afraid to push the limit.”
Beckham’s body ink and Varvatos’ rock inspired fashion fuse perfectly with Bernier’s preference for black and white casualwear, as well as his fascination with skulls and, especially, tattoos. He started getting them done when he was 15 years old and living in Laval, Que. Now 26, Bernier has an impressive collection of tats, including every zodiac sign in his family: the Virgin Mary for his mom, Lyne (Virgo), Poseidon for his dad, Alain (Pisces), water for his brother, Marc-André (Aquarius) and a lion for himself (Leo). He also has one commemorating the Stanley Cup he won with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012, and he’s planning a new tattoo to honour his first child, Tyler, who was born in August. “All the tattoos I have mean something about what happened in my career or my family,” says Bernier. “It’s not just a piece of art; it’s something that’s meaningful to me.”
Family and his French heritage are fiercely important to Bernier. He pays tribute to his grandparents Armand and Georgette with the initials “GP” and “GM” inside his mask, along with “TY” for his infant son. When he signed his first pro contract, Bernier bought a cottage for his parents to say thank you for the sacri- fices they made as hockey parents – the first being the family freezer. As kids, Jonathan and Marc-André used it as a shooting target, littering it with dents and scuff marks. Their parents let that little piece of mischief slide, though, given that the freezer never actually stopped working.
Being three years younger, Jonathan always looked up to his older brother, who paved the way for him through the hockey ranks all the way up to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. There, the Bernier brothers faced off against each other as teenagers late in 2004, Marc-André with the Halifax Mooseheads and Jonathan with the Lewiston MAINEiacs. When the two met on the ice, Marc-André, a scoring forward who now plays professionally in France, didn’t take it easy on his little brother. In fact, he was the first player ever to score on Jonathan in junior. Marc-André even gave the puck to Jonathan as a present that Christmas, just to rub that family record in a little.
Now that he has started his own little hockey clan, Bernier hasn’t let first-time- father sleep deprivation affect his play with the Leafs. “It’s good; it’s a big change – not sleeping as much as you want, and you’re used to your routine before that,” he says. “After a late night or a game, you go for a nap, but now it’s like you go home and you still have to work, right? But so far, it has been amazing. It’s the best thing that has happened to me, for sure.”
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On the ice, Bernier is the best thing that has happened to the Leafs since their his- toric face plant against the Boston Bruins in the 2013 playoffs. After Toronto lost in overtime in Game 7, Leafs management traded for Bernier, who’d been stuck as a backup goalie in L.A. since being drafted 11th overall by the Kings in 2006. Now in his second season with Toronto, he has become the team’s undisputed No. 1 goalie.
Bernier has a reputation for being able to handle the pressure in the centre of the hockey universe, but even the coolest cucumber gets sliced once in a while. His moment came last December during an interview at a charity event honouring the one-year anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s death. Bernier appeared to have no idea who Mandela was, calling him “a tremendous athlete” and saying “He’s definitely one of the athletes I watched growing up.” The interview went viral, and Bernier later apologized, saying he was “embarrassed” by what happened, blaming his slip on red carpet nerves. But if the public pillorying affected him, Bernier didn’t show it on the ice. What he does best is stop pucks, and no amount of pressure has made him crack as a goalie. Case in point: After his Mandela gaffe, he won his next four games for the Leafs, allowing just six goals over that span. “My main jobs are hockey and spending time with my family,” he says. “That’s what I’m focusing on. Those are the only things that matter.”