Jack of All Trades
by Kristy McNeil/Special to CHN
It's rare to find perfection in any endeavor, let alone in the academic index, a tool that combines grade-point average, class rank and entrance exams and is a crucial part of the Ivy League athletic recruiting process.
But if you're going to find that anywhere in college hockey, Princeton is a good place to look for it.
Tigers Sophomore Jack Berger not only had a perfect AI, but also the skill to match his size (6-foot-3, 210 lbs.), which gives him a good chance to join the growing ranks of Princeton players in the NHL one day.
For now, he'll be trying to help his team get past a change in coach, as the most successful one in team history, Guy Gadowsky, departs for Penn State. And he'll be trying to get over offseason hernia surgery.
The son of Dan and Cindy Berger, Jack is the eldest of five brothers; Jimmy (19), Chase (16), Scotty (13) and Christian (11). Hockey started a generation before when Jack’s father played hockey in high school and on the club team at the University of Missouri. His uncles also played hockey and had all five Berger boys on the ice at a young age.
When asked if he’s the best player in the family, Jack gives a laugh and says, “I wish I could say I was.” His middle brother, Chase, has done better at his age level than Jack did, but he thinks his youngest brother, Christian, is most likely going to be the best in the family.
It doesn’t hurt that the Berger boys have each other to play against. They have daily workouts together, play pick-up ice and roller hockey and all played for the same club team.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Jack says about being one of five. “There’s always something going on. It’s a team environment with a lot of moving parts. It gets hectic, but I much prefer that to having just one sibling.”
You’d be hard pressed to find another high school student who was as active as Jack. A student at competitive private school St. Louis University High School, Jack had a transcript that featured seven AP classes, which he started taking his sophomore year. After school, Jack would head directly to high school hockey practice. He’d have to cut that practice short, getting off the ice after 45 minutes, to get in a car and travel to another rink to practice with his club team for a full practice. Jack would get home at 8 or 9 at night, 12 hours after his school day began and would do homework until 1 or 2 in the morning.
That life has prepared Berger well for being a hockey player at Princeton. His typical day is not much different than when he was in high school. He goes to class all day, then to the rink, has dinner and studies.
“I like the pressure to be efficient and manage my time,” he says. “It motivates me to do what I need to do to be successful in both areas. It’s challenging but I don’t like a ton of free time to just sit around and do nothing. I value the experiences I get from each side of the coin.”
“Jack is a terrific example of what a student-athlete should be,” first-year head coach Bob Prier said. “He genuinely appreciates the position that he has worked extremely hard to put himself in. He is a brilliant, hard-working young man with a strong desire to get the most out of every situation both academically and athletically. It is evident that Jack's attributes will result in continued improvements moving forward, his aspirations are high, but he is proving that he is committed to the means of achieving them. Jack understands the big picture, and will be very successful at Princeton and beyond.”
An economics major on a pre-med track, Berger spent the summer shadowing an orthopedic surgeon.
Berger met the surgeon, a friend of his father’s who plays men’s league hockey, at the beginning of the summer and expressed his interest in shadowing. It turned out to be more than Berger could have hoped.
“The first day, he was really helpful and patient with me,” he says. “He let me get real close and watch the surgeries. He involved me and kept me involved in the entire procedure. It was really fun so I kept going back.”
Berger spent 35-40 hours a week shadowing the surgeon who made sure that he saw a variety of orthopedic surgeries, including complete joint replacements.
“I was surprised at how practical and simple some of the fixes are,” he says. “There’s this complex human body and there are these overly simple, practical solutions to fix it, and they work so well.”
In addition to his time in the operating room, Berger worked hard over the summer to get prepared for his sophomore hockey season. Despite coming off a hernia surgery, Jack has already set personal goals for himself.
“I want to contribute more offense and play good defense, put my body out there and be physical," Berger says. "I like Coach Prier a lot. He brings a lot of good energy, passion and ideas to the program. We have a lot of young guys who might be a bit of a challenge but we’re going to work really hard to be successful and build off of last year. We’d like a better finish than last year and improve on that performance.”
So what will Berger be doing post-Princeton?
“I’ll have to cross that bridge when I come to it. Obviously I want to play as long as I can,” he said explaining his options of professional hockey and medical school.
Who knows where we’ll hear his name. Being announced at an NHL game or being paged over the loudspeaker for surgery. Maybe both.