Some of the draft picks throughout Philadelphia Flyers’ history that are most memorable, for good or bad, are Bobby Clarke being picked 17th overall in the second round, Peter Forsberg selected sixth overall, Mel Bridgman, who is the only first overall pick selected by the Flyers, and James van Riemsdyk and Nolan Patrick, being the club’s two second overall picks. But who remembers the name of the first Flyers pick? That player is Serge Bernier, certainly a name that is pretty forgotten in a lot of fans’ minds.
The 1967 NHL Entry Draft was the fifth such draft in NHL history. Scouting wasn’t the absolute best at that point and the drafts in the 60s really don’t look too impressive, especially the really early ones as most of the top prospects were sponsored by NHL teams, which was how NHL teams got junior players’ rights before the NHL draft. The effects of sponsorship, which an NHL team could sponsor players as early as they wanted, would affect the 1963 draft to the 1968 draft, so most of the best older players were already taken. The 1967 draft was a dud by all means. There were 18 total picks over 3 rounds: 10 in the first, 7 in the second, and 1 in the third. St Louis didn’t even select a player and Toronto didn’t select a player in the first round. None of the 18 players were ever selected for an All-Star Game.
The Flyers selected two players, but we’re here to talk about Serge Bernier, the earlier of the two picks. Serge Bernier was selected fifth overall by the Flyers. Bernier was playing for Sorel Éperviers of the QMJHL before being selected and then would start the 1967-68 season in the AHL, playing 33 games with the Quebec Aces. He would have 7 goals and 11 assists for 18 points in the AHL. The 1968-69 season would see Bernier only play one NHL game, though stepping up his game in the AHL. Bernier would play in 70 games for the Aces, and in those 70 games, he would post 27 goals and 32 assists for 59 points. In Steve Bernier’s third year after being drafted, he still only played one NHL game but got an assist in that game. This came the year that Bernier kept building in his AHL career. He would, again, play 70 games, posting 22 goals and 48 assists for 70 points. The 1970-71 season is when Bernier found his hold in the professional hockey world when he would play 77 games for the Flyers posting 23 goals and 28 assists for 51 points in his rookie year. The next season, Bernier would play 44 games for the Flyers, potting 12 goals and 11 assists for 23 points, before being traded to the Los Angeles Kings and scoring 11 goals and 11 assists for 22 points in LA’s final 26 games. The 1972-73 season would be Bernier’s only full season with the Kings. He played 75 games that season, scoring 22 goals and 46 assists for 68 points.
Serge Bernier would jump over to the WHA and join the Quebec Nordiques, who he would stay with for the rest of his career. This is when his career really stepped up a notch. In his first season in the WHA, Bernier played in 74 games, scoring 37 goals and 49 assists for 86 points, the first time he ever went over a point per game in his professional career. The next two seasons would see the only times Bernier would eclipse the 100-point mark. In 1974-75, Bernier would have 122 points, 54 goals and 68 assists, in 76 games and led the Nordiques in scoring that year, he was also 3rd in the WHA behind Andre Lacroix and Bobby Hull. The 1975-76 season saw Bernier’s numbers dip. This time he only scored 102 points, 34 goals and 68 assists, in 70 games. In 1976-77, Serge’s numbers dropped again, a bit, but still put up 96 points, 43 goals and 53 assists, in 74 games. That year Serge Bernier would lead the Nordiques to their first and only Avco Cup. He led the Nordiques in playoff scoring with 14 goals and 22 assists for 36 points in 17 playoff games which would lead to him being named playoff MVP. The 1977-78 season would see him play fewer games, presumably due to a minor injury, but still played 58 games. In those 58 games, he had 26 goals and 52 assists for 78 points. 1978-79 would be the last season for the WHA and Bernier would still continue to be one of Quebec’s top players as he was third on the team in points with 82, 36 goals and 46 assists, in 65 games.
The last two seasons of his career were spent in the NHL, still with the Quebec Nordiques, and his numbers would drop drastically, along with his playing time. In the 1979-80 season, he played in only 32 games and scored 8 goals and 14 assists for 22 points. The next season, he would play 46 games, but would only score 2 goals and 8 assists for 10 points. He would retire in 1981.
Serge would look back on his career and mention that he never planned to play pro. He found out he was selected by the Flyers from a co-worker during a shift at Molson Brewery. He mentioned that Keith Allen had called him to let him know that he had been selected and that he wanted him to go to Quebec. Keith Allen said he liked Bernier for his size, he was 6’1 and 200 lbs. Allen also said that he could’ve been a great Flyer if he was more consistent, stating that he looked natural even when facing a young Bob Clarke. Serge mentioned that he had never been invited to any Flyers Alumni event, wondering if the club had forgotten about their first-ever amateur pick.
By Noah Caplan (@Phlyers24)
photo creds: flyershistory.com