Julia Berg stars with Vancouver Griffins

Originally published on EuroReport.com in 2000

By Lucas Aykroyd

Imagine being 17 years old and playing your first two pro hockey games in a foreign country. Not only that, but you come out on the wrong end of 6-1 and 10-2 decisions.

Ouch! Welcome to real life in Canadian women’s hockey, Julia Berg.

Fortunately, this spunky forward from Stavanger, Norway wasn’t dismayed by her tough introduction to National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) play at Queen’s Park Arena in New Westminster. Her Vancouver Griffins just couldn’t handle the Brampton Thunder, who entered last weekend’s exhibition series with a record of 8-1-1.

“It was really fun, but hard!” Berg told EuroReport after the first game on 14 October. “Really different from what I’m used to. Women’s hockey is not big where I come from, and it’s awesome to get to play against Team Canada players.”

Established in January of this year, the Vancouver Griffins are the newest franchise in the 10-team NWHL, the world’s premier women’s hockey league. The team will play an exhibition schedule this season, and begin full interlocking play in the NWHL (mostly based in eastern Canada) in 2001-2002.

Berg, a scoring star with the Norwegian national team the past two years, looks like she will benefit from joining the Griffins. They play a wide-open skating style with a ban on open-ice bodychecking and far less obstruction than you would see in an NHL game. This should provide a great environment for Berg to improve her short, choppy skating stride.

“I’ve always wanted to come to Canada since I first started playing hockey, because this is the big hockey nation,” Berg said. “I picked Vancouver because I’ve been here before, and I was at a summer hockey camp and met a lot of people and made friends. Someone told me about the Griffins rookie camp, and I tried out and things worked out for me.”

Her parents’ reaction, predictably, was mixed, despite having such a mature daughter.

“My dad’s really supportive. He came here with me a couple of times. My mom was kind of freaking out, but they know it’s my choice.”

And she’s making the most of it. The 5-7, 155-pound ace scored three goals and two assists to lead the way in an 8-1 win over the Global Rockets of the South Coast Female Amateur Hockey League on 5 October.

Working with linemates Caroline Hall and Sherri Schmidt against Brampton, Berg generated some good scoring chances, including a nice wrist shot off right wing with two minutes left in the first period.

“I’ve been a winger all my life,” said Berg. “They put me on center at one point, but I’m really a right wing or left wing.”

With a slight preference for the right side. Berg coyly admitted she wears number 10 as a tribute to her favorite player, Pavel Bure of the Florida Panthers. She also likes fellow Norwegian Espen “Shampoo” Knutsen, who signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets this year.

Berg has played against boys for years, but now she has a new female role model in forward Nancy Drolet, the five-time world champion and Olympic silver medallist with Team Canada who announced this month she would suit up for the Griffins as captain.

“I didn’t really know who she was before I came over here, but now I’ve been playing with her and she’s awesome,” Berg said. “She’s so nice. She really is everything I want to be as a hockey player.”

Hopefully she can bring what she learns back to Norway to help jumpstart the country’s faltering women’s hockey program.

“Right now, the national team is shut down,” Berg said. “Not enough players and not enough money. They give all the money to the guys. All the good players are playing on guys’ teams.”

Norwegian hockey enjoyed a highlight last May at the men’s World Championships in St. Petersburg when the national team edged Canada in a 4-3 shocker. Berg admits she’s not above teasing her Canadian teammates about that: “It’s about the only thing I can say!”

Meanwhile, she plans to juggle her studies at Burnaby North Secondary School next semester with her number one educational mandate out on the ice.

“I want to learn as much as I can. I’ll just try to improve in every way and see what happens after that.”

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