Bernie Saunders (born June 21, 1956 in Montreal, Quebec) is a retired Canadian professional ice hockey right winger who played two seasons in the National Hockey League for the Quebec Nordiques. His brother is ESPN sportscaster, John Saunders. Bernie was only the 5th black hockey player to play in the NHL. The others before him were Willie O'Ree, Mike Marson, Bill Riley, and Tony McKegney.
Bernie was born in Montreal, Canada and spent most of high school at H.S. Billings High School in Chateauguay, Quebec. The Saunders family moved from Montreal to the Toronto area his senior high school year and Bernie graduated from Ajax High School, in Ajax, Ontario.
Early and college career
While in Chateaguay, Bernie and John played Jr B hockey for the Chateauguay Wings under the tuteledge of Jacques Demers who would go on to coach in the WHA and NHL. When the family moved to the Toronto area, Bernie played for the Pickering Panthers in the Metro Jr B league for two years. The Panthers were a strong franchise and several of the team went on to play for the Saint Louis Billikens in the old CCHA. The Saunders brothers played college hockey at Western Michigan University in the 1970s along with future New York Rangers GM Neil Smith.
John finished his career at Ryerson in Toronto where he was an Ontario University Athletic Association All Star for the Rams. Bernie finished his WMU career with 76 goals, 78 assists and 154 points in 4 seasons. Leading WMU in goals 3 times and twice being recognized as the team's MVP.
Bernie captained the WMU hockey team his senior year and is now in the Western Michigan University Athletic Hall of Fame. There is also a banner honoring him at Lawson Arena, the home rink of WMU hockey.
After completing his career at WMU, Bernie signed with Quebec Nordiques in the Nordiques' first year in the NHL after switching over from the defunct WHA. In his first professional year, Bernie was assigned to the Cincinnati Stingers in the old Central Hockey League (CHL) where he recorded 13 goals, and 11 assists for 24 points in 29 games. The NHL/WHA merger dictated that each ex-WHA team had to send players to stock Cincinnati which was one of the ex-WHA teams that did not enter the NHL. However, the Stingers folded operations at Christmas time (79/80 season) so Bernie was reassigned to the Syracuse Firebirds in the American Hockey League (AHL) where he finished his first professional year. He recorded 23 goals, 17 assists and 40 points in the AHL for total rookie stats in the minors with 36 goals, 28 assists for 64 points in 67 games. Bernie played 4 games with the Nordiques at the end of that year before returning to Syracuse to play in the AHL playoffs. The following year the Nordiques failed to have an AHL/CHL farm team as the Syracuse Firebirds folded at the end of the year. As a result, Bernie was reassigned to play in the Montreal Canadiens organization for the Nova Scotia Voyageurs on loan from the Nordiques along with Reg Thomas and Roland Cloutier. His second year statistics were 17 goals, 21 assists and 38 points for the Voyageurs; he also played in 6 games with the Nordiques that year where he recorded one assist. At the end of that year Bernie decided to phase out of the game by signing with the Kalamazoo Wings in the IHL and playing a pre-retirement year in the city where he played as a college player. He scored 38 goals, 37 assists for 75 points in an injury plagued final year (70 games).
Personal life and family
Bernie fell back on his degree from Western Michigan and spent 17 years in the pharmaceutical industry with the Upjohn Company before moving on to other commercial positions within the industry.
Bernie has three sons: Jonathan, Shawn and Andrew. Jonathan played defense for the Miami RedHawks men's ice hockey team; Shawn played four years at UMass while Andrew pursued a career in law enforcement while attending East Carolina University. Bernie currently resides on the East coast.
Awards and honours
|All-CCHA Second Team||1977-78|