Even though Carter Berger grew up in Canada, he didn’t come from a hockey family. His parents were high-level athletes, but they were Division 1 college swimmers. Isn’t wasn’t until Carter’s older brother Bailey started playing hockey that he was exposed to the sport.
And once he got old enough to play himself, it didn’t take long to fall in love.
“I remember my first few times on the ice, I loved it,” Berger said. “It was tough when my parents said it was time to go, I got really upset and stuff like that. I always had that instant connection with the game.”
In fact, Berger loves hockey so much that he doesn’t even need ice to play.
“I played roller hockey quite a bit, and still do but for the most part,” he said. “It’s pretty popular in my community that I’m from. There’s a pretty good men’s league that I’ve been playing in the last few years. It’s lots of fun and it’s really competitive.”
So what are the biggest differences between ice hockey and roller hockey? For one, there’s no icing or offsides. It’s also a slower game and involves only four players on each team in the rink at a time compared to 5v5 on the ice, which allows for more time and space with the puck.
“There’s a lot more time,” Berger said. “It’s a little different in that way but it’s a lot of fun.”
“It’s a lot of skill and I think it helps me out a lot. I can try to take some of the stuff I learn there and take it to the ice.”
With different rules and a more laid-back atmosphere, roller hockey players are asked to do more both offensively and defensively, which means positions become more fluid. That has helped Berger in his development, as he hopes to be a versatile player on the ice for the Huskies.
“I’m a guy that can play in all situations,” he said. “I think I can be relied on to be out there in the last minute trying to protect the lead or get that next goal to tie the game.”
Berger is part of a freshman class that will be tasked with helping raise UConn men’s hockey from a program hoping for some postseason action to one that can be a regular contender in the conference.
To get that that point, a few things need to happen. First, the Huskies need more talent. That’s something Berger will help with considering he was the 107th pick in this year’s NHL Draft by the Florida Panthers.
But it takes more than just talent. Last year, UConn got an up-close look at a program that serves as a great model in UMass. In 2016-17, they went 5-29-2. Last season, the Minutemen reached the national championship game. One of UMass’ strengths was the offensive prowess of its defensemen, something UConn sorely lacked.
“I think I’m a smooth skating, puck-bringing offensive-defenseman,” Berger said. “I love to use my feet to beat forecheckers and be that fourth guy in the play.”
For a guy like Berger, who grew up in North Vancouver, British Columbia, college hockey isn’t a common path for players to take. Most players head straight into the major junior ranks — considered a professional league by the NCAA. But Berger didn’t feel that was his best option.
“I think I’m a pretty late bloomer and the college route gives me that much more time to develop,” he said. “You don’t have to rush to develop whereas major junior, you’re pressed for time.”
At UConn, he’ll have plenty of time to develop while still playing against quality competition. If his play can match his hype coming in, taking him off the ice will prove to be as much of a challenge now as it was when he first started playing.