Longtime Utah hockey staple Bernardy calls it a career
Joe Bernardy isn’t even of retirement age, but he just felt that “it was time.”
This past summer, Bernardy stepped down from his position as the hockey program coordinator and assistant arena manager at the County Ice Center in Murray after nearly 20 years. Now, he spends more time at his Sandy home than he ever has before.
“To be honest, I’d rather be in a rink somewhere running or planning a program, watching kids skate and teaching the game of hockey,” said Bernardy. “I’ve met a lot of good people through hockey and I always wanted to give back to those good people.”
Prior to his position at the County Ice Center, which was a government-funded position, Bernardy also held the same position at the Acord Ice Center in West Valley City.
A Glendale, Calif., native, Bernardy found his way to Utah back in the 1970s through hockey. He was recruited by legendary NCAA college hockey coach Jack Riley to play Division I hockey at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (Army). When that opportunity didn’t come to fruition, he enrolled at Brigham Young University and founded the university’s club hockey program.
Former NHL great Eric Nesterenko, who used to skate at drop-ins at the old Hygeia Ice Rink in Salt Lake City, skated with Bernardy at one of those drop-ins and asked why he wasn’t playing college hockey. Nesterenko soon contacted his old teammate, Fernie Flaman, the head coach at Northeastern University, and Bernardy was given an opportunity to play there, but couldn’t take advantage of that chance.
“Back then, it was $925 a semester to go to Northeastern and I just couldn’t afford it,” explained Bernardy. “This was late spring and scholarships were already given out for the coming season. Looking back, it’s one of those ‘would, coulda, shoulda’ times in your life, but I went back to BYU.”
Bernardy ended up graduating in 1977 with a bachelor’s of science degree in physical education and then earned his master’s degree in the same subject in 1980. While pursuing his master’s, Bernardy coached the BYU club team and was later a top-eight finalist for the vacant D-I head coaching job at Western Michigan University in 1980 and a top-three finalist for the St. Cloud State University job six years later.
He also owned a hockey conditioning company for a stretch and was named the director of the Wasatch Hockey School in 1983. Then in 1984, Bernardy was invited to training camp of the Salt Lake Golden Eagles, a pro team that at the time was part of the Central Hockey League.
His playing career over, Bernardy worked to stay involved in the sport and in 1993, he founded the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Hockey Association, a former American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) league that ran for six seasons until the spring of 1999.
“We used to draw upwards of 2,000 fans to games when the Utah schools would play each other, and that’s for ACHA games in the 1990s,” Bernardy said. “I actually pushed and pushed to get NCAA D-I out here, and it almost happened with a couple schools. I remember one Weber State-Utah State game where we had 2,400 fans inside the Ogden Ice Sheet, which held 2,000 and another 2,000 out in the parking lot waiting to buy tickets.
“You look back and think, ‘Wow, that was pretty awesome.’”
Bernardy’s son, Michael, played NCAA Division III hockey at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis., and won two national titles from 2007-11 (pictured above). He also has a daughter, Michelle, and stepsons, Josh and Nic. Bernardy and his wife, Monica, have been married since March 2009.
“It’s been a great run and I hope it’s not over for me in hockey,” Bernardy said. “People hear that I retired and ask me what’s next. I just want to find something on the administrative side and hopefully, I’ll be back in hockey soon enough.”
— Matt Mackinder