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Jacob Bernard-Docker providing consistency and poise beyond his years on Belleville Sens blueline

January 11, 2023

Graduates of the storied University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks hockey program are always expected to deliver steady performances. For Jacob Bernard-Docker, his recent play with the Belleville Senators has exceeded those standards. He holds an impressive plus-7 rating in 11 AHL appearances this season. Throughout that stretch, he has also managed two assists. His strong play hasn’t gone unnoticed, as NHL executives have recalled the 22-year-old for nine contests with Ottawa.

The right-hand shot blueliner has an abundance of raw talent. At the same, he has also invested a great deal of effort in building his skill base to become a high-end player. The 2018 first round selection (26th overall by Ottawa) honed his skills in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, where he was a mainstay for the Okotoks Oilers. Bernard-Docker skated well in his draft year, scoring 41 points, including 20 goals. Despite his impressive numbers, his main calling card remained his excellent defensive abilities.

His play in Alberta earned him a spot at the University of North Dakota, a program which also boasted a bevy of other high-end Senators’ prospects, including Jake Sanderson, Shane Pinto and Tyler Kleven. In spite of the depth of talent on the team, Bernard-Docker was hardly lost in the shuffle. He helped provide excellent stability on the backend, earning an NCHC tournament championship and Best Defensive Defenceman accolades during the 2020-21 campaign, his final campaign before joining the Senators.

While major junior is often the most common route to the NHL for many Canadian-born prospects, Bernard-Docker maintains that US College was the right choice for him.

“I think for me. It was probably the best path for my development. Those three seasons at UND helped me a ton and were probably the best three years of my life up until that point. So a lot of good memories. All the time in the gym and with the guys and just that school atmosphere was really beneficial for me.”

He was also pleased and appreciated the rarity of being able to share the same roster with so many Senators’ draft choices.

“It’s unheard of. So for us to be on this journey together, it’s pretty cool. During my time up in Ottawa, I was staying with “Sandy’, so he was nice enough to have me. It’s been a great time. It’s going to be cool when all four of us are in the organization.”

Focusing on the next challenge before him, Bernard-Docker gives full credit to the training and coaching personnel for helping him transition to professional hockey.

“I think coming out of college. Maybe I didn’t exactly realize that I had that much development that I needed to make, but obviously, it’s a big step playing up there. The guys down here have done an awesome job with me, the coaching staff, trainers, and everyone, and that prepares me really well for when I do get that jump up. I’ve had a lot of help from David Bell and Jack Capuano up in Ottawa. It’s just sticking with the process. I’ve been up and down a few times now. I think just keeping a positive mindset and no matter where I’m playing, just kind of putting my best foot forward.”

Manitoba Moose vs Belleville Senators January 7, 2023 © Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography

Bernard-Docker recognizes his main strength as a player is his defensive acumen, though he can also make plays and help generate quality scoring chances. Although he has played in 69 AHL games to date, he looks like a veteran on the ice and has played in 22 NHL contests and notched his first two points (both assists) in that span.

“That’s always been part of my game. I think the main thing is just trying to be poised with the puck. I think a lot of that comes from trying to get my head up, watching video and kind of knowing some tendencies, just not rushing plays too much. Obviously, when you get to the NHL, you see those guys are so good under pressure.”

Bernard-Docker also boasts great athleticism. His commitment to training is the main reason for this, but the defender also credits growing up in Canmore, Alberta, in sight of the Rocky Mountains and scenic Banff National Park. As a youth, he was fortunate to get involved in many outdoor activities while also spending as much time at the rink as possible.

“I was definitely a lucky kid — lots of skiing, hiking, and all that kind of stuff. Canmore is an active community. A lot of my friends played hockey with me growing up and then ended up going out towards more mountain stuff, but it’s a lot of fun to go back there.”

Like many pro hockey players, Bernard-Docker has many family members involved in the sport. His brother, Seth, currently plays collegiately with Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts and his sister, Island, plays U-Sports hockey with Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick.

“My dad always built us a backyard rink. I still remember the days we would be out there until the sun went down. We’re all right-shot defenders. So it kind of runs in the family.”

With an always workman-like in his approach, Bernard-Docker is not overthinking his next challenge of making the NHL. Instead, he is putting in the effort to improve his game every day.

“I think just continuing to stick with it. I think. I’m on the right track. It’s one of those things where you mature, keep working on the little details in my game, and just being good in my own end.”