By Chris Umpierre
ESTERO, Fla. – His name has become linked with the Florida Everblades. When Southwest Floridians think of their professional hockey team, they often think of three things: the team’s green alligator mascot, Germain Arena and Reggie Berg.
Entering his seventh season with the team, the 30-year-old Berg owns nine team career records and can break six more in the 2006-07 ECHL season.
“Reggie’s the mayor. The legend,” Florida forward Ernie Hartlieb said. “He’s a hell of a hockey player. He’s been here forever. Everybody knows Reggie around here, everybody loves Reggie.”
Berg, who has owned a home in Estero since 2003, has become the face of the team — the player many fans associate with the team. As Florida’s second-oldest player, Berg admits this could be his final professional season. He’ll stop playing when he feels he’s no longer capable of producing.
“Fans here in Fort Myers are lucky to see him play,” said ex-Blades forward Tom Buckley, the team’s all-time leading points scorer with 310. Berg is second with 254.
“It’s quite an amazing feat that he’s stayed here and contributed in a positive manner for all these years. We all know there’s a lot of turnover in this league.”
Growing up in Anoka, Minn. and later playing for the University of Minnesota from 1995-99, Berg never thought he’d end up here — with two children and a wife living and playing hockey in Southwest Florida. But life, he said, provides some unexpected twists.
Berg also never thought when he began his pro career in 1999 with the Blades that he’d still be playing professionally at age 30.
“When you’re young you see the older players and say, ‘Oh, I’m never going to be one of those guys.’ But the next thing you know, you are.”
Berg was almost not one of those guys. After his third season with Florida in 2001-02, Berg retired. He left hockey to finish his management degree at Minnesota and become a stock broker.
But then a life-changing event changed him. His father, Ron, was diagnosed with cancer in 2002. Ron, 54, recovered but Berg wasn’t the same.
“It puts into perspective what’s important in your life and how it can be taken away from you quickly,” he said. “I decided right there that I wanted to do what I really wanted to do for as long as I can. That’s why I keep coming back. When I retired, I did it for reasons I thought were right but it really wasn’t what I wanted. Now I’m doing what I want.”
Berg has continued playing despite a slew of recent major injuries and his increasing age. Berg suffered two concussions in 2003-04, sprained his left knee in 2004-05 and injured his right wrist last season. He returned in time for the playoffs each time.
This season, Berg is one of four veterans on a young team. The club has three 20-year-olds and four 21-year-olds. Florida coach Gerry Fleming said Berg hasn’t lost a step. So is Berg getting better with age?
“Like fine wine,” Hartlieb said.
Berg credits a rigorous offseason workout program for his continued production. Berg’s wife, Christy, is a personal trainer and often creates for him cardiovascular programs. Fleming, who also lives in Estero, often sees Berg running as he pushes a baby stroller with his 1-year-old son Wesley.
Feeling in top shape, Berg is on the verge of owning virtually every Blades all-time record worth owning. He became the team’s all-time leading goal scorer (116) last season and is 57 points away from becoming the all-time points scorer.
“If you play long enough you’ll break all the records, right?” Buckley joked. “If he does do it this year, I would pass on my best. It’s always nice when a friend breaks your record.”
Personal records don’t mean anything, Berg said. At his age, Berg only cares about winning. Berg still longs to help the Blades win their first ECHL championship. Berg led the team to two Kelly Cup Finals in 2003-04 and 2004-05 but Florida lost each time. A reporter asked him how he would feel if Florida retired his No. 10 jersey.
“The most important thing they can raise in here would be a championship banner,” Berg said. “That would be cool. It would be great. Hopefully, it’s this season.”