Craig Berube is currently the Head Coach of the St Louis Blues, one of the participants in the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals. However, before he became a coach, he had a long career as an NHL player for numerous teams and, as it turns out, played in more games with the Washington Capitals than with any other team. In this latest Capitals Alumni Profile, NoVa Caps looks back at Berube’s career with the Capitals and other aspects of his hockey life. You can check out all of our other alumni profiles here.
Early Life and Career
Berube was born on December 17, 1965 in Calahoo, Alberta, a town so small, it’s been referred to as a “one rink hamlet”. As Berube himself has described it, “It’s very tiny – to drive through, it’s going to take you 10 seconds. You got a general store on the right. Then you got a church, then you got some ball fields, then you got a hockey rink. Then you’re out of the town.”
He grew up on a farm, which not only included grain crops but cattle and grew up as a hockey player on the frozen ponds. He later played at the local rink known as the Calahoo Arena. His ancestry is both French and Cree, a First Nations tribe. One of his grandmothers was a Cree. He was, thus, considered a Métis, which meant combination of white and First Nations.
He needed an ID card to prove this so that he could play in First Nations tournaments even though he looked white. Like many First Nations players, he was given the nickname of Chief.
Professional Career Prior to the Capitals
Berube played his junior hockey in the Western Hockey League (WHL), staring in 1983, playing with the Kamloops Blazers, the New Westminster Bruins, and the Medicine Hat Tigers.
Berube was never drafted by an NHL team, but signed as a free agent in 1986 with the Philadelphia Flyers, who sent him to their farm team, the Hershey Bears. (Note: the Hershey Bears were then the Flyers’ farm team.)
He spent most of that season with the Bears, but was brought up to the Flyers for 7 games. During 1987-88, he divided his time between the Bears and Flyers, playing 31 games with the Bears and 27 with the Flyers.
During 1988-89, he spent 7 games with the Bears but the remainder of the year with the Flyers, playing 53 games, establishing himself as a regular with the Flyers and beginning to make his mark as a tough NHL enforcer.
Berube remained with the Flyers until the 1990-91 season when he was traded in May 1991, along with Craig Fisher and Scott Mellanby to the Edmonton Oilers for Dave Brown and Corey Foster and Jari Kurri.
Berube did not play a single game for Edmonton as he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to the 1991-92 season. Midway through that season, he was then traded to the Calgary Flames. He remained with the Flames through the entire 1992-93 season.
On June 26, 1993, he was traded to the Washington Capitals for their fifth round pick in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft.
Washington Capitals Career
He did not contribute as much on offense for the Caps during the 1994-95, 1995-96, and 1996-97 seasons, as he had his first season. In 1997-98, he played in 74 games for the team, scoring 6 goals and earning 9 assists for 15 points overall and had 189 penalty minutes.
Berube played in all 21 playoff games for the Caps during 1997-98, a season where they advanced to the Stanley Cup Final. He played one more year for the Caps, 1998-99, before being traded back to his original team, the Flyers, at the trade deadline.
Former teammate, Ken Klee, said about him, “Chief was a tough guy who never – a little bit different maybe than a few other guys I played with – he never worried about showing his teammates how tough he was in practice or anything like that. It was just ‘Ok, it’s game time now. I have a job to do.’ He was just business about it. I’ve had some other guys who were a little more scary in practice, but they made sure that they kept up that [persona] even off the ice.”
While Berube was a fighter, he did not only want to be defined as a fighter. He was constantly asking coaches for advice on how to improve as a player. If he was struggling or could not figure something out on the ice, he would ask for advice.
Multiple former teammates described Berube as “a learner” and “inquisitive”, which was not common of the bruiser-types of his era. He enjoyed talking hockey in the back of the bus with teammates Keith Jones, Mark Tinordi, Dale Hunter, and other players. Many times, they would get together to watch games, drink beers and eat chicken wings. These guys were part of that core group that helped the 1997-98 Capitals, who reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
The most negative moment during his tenure with the Capitals was when he called Florida Panthers’ forward, Peter Worrell, who was black, a monkey during a game in November 1997. This incident resulted in a one game suspension for Berube. Berube apologized to Worrell the next game and claimed the remark was not intended to be racial.
During his seven year tenure with the Caps, he played in 419 games with them, scored 26 goals and records 38 assists for 64 points overall. He had 1220 penalty minutes.
Berube finished the 1998-99 season with the Flyers and played with them for the entire 1999-2000 season. After that, he bounced around the league, returning to the Caps for 22 games in 2000-2001, then finishing that year with the New York Islanders, and then two more years with the Calgary Flames, 2001-02 and 2002-03. For the 2003-04 season, he was a player-assistant coach with the Philadelphia Phantoms, the Flyers’ AHL affiliate which marked the end of his playing career.
For his seventeen year NHL career, he played in 1054 games with a total of five different teams. He had 61 goals and 98 assists for 159 total points. He had 3149 penalty minutes.
Life After NHL
Berube was named Head Coach of the Philadelphia Phantoms prior to the start of the 2006-07 season. However, he became part of the Flyers NHL coaching staff in October 2006, following a major reorganization in the Flyers’, which involved: General Manager, Bob Clarke resigning from his position, Head Coach, Bill Hitchcock getting fired, and assistant coach, John Stevens being promoted to Head Coach of the Flyers and Berube appointed to assistant coach to replace Stevens. Berube returned to the Phantoms head coaching for the 2007-08 season but, after that, was reassigned as assistant coach for the Flyers.
On October 7, 2013, Berube was named Head Coach of the Flyers when the team had gotten off to a 0-3-0 start. The team improved under Berube and made the playoffs for the 2013-14 season. The 2014-15 was not as good for the Flyers, as they missed the playoffs entirely. Hence, Flyers General Manager, Ron Hexhall, relieved him of his duties as Head Coach.
On June 29, 2016, Berube was named Head Coach of the Chicago Wolves, who at the time were the St Louis Blues’ AHL affiliate. The Wolves had a good season but were eliminated from the playoffs in Round 2.
Nearly a year later, on June 15, 2017, he was appointed Associate Head Coach for the Blues, a position he held until November 19, 2018. That day, Head Coach Mike Yeo was fired and Berube was appointed the interim Head Coach.
The Blues had gotten off to a poor start for the 2018-19 season despite high expectations, so a coaching change was in order. The team continued to lose at the beginning of Berube’s tenure and were in last place in the NHL on January 3, 2019. The team soon turned it around, racked up a franchise record unbeaten streak and the Blues slowly climbed back into contention. They made the playoffs, finishing tied for second in their division and close to first but were considered to be in third place due to tie breakers. But, even with that, they won the first three rounds of the playoffs and advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Boston Bruins which was the first time the team had made the Finals since 1970.
St Louis Post Dispatch: Berube — Proud of His Roots
NHL: Getting to Know Craig Berube
Legends of Hockey — Craig Berube
Who Now, If At All? A Rooting Case For and Against The Remaining Teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs
20th Anniversary: A Look Back at the Washington Capitals’ 1997-1998 Season
By Diane Doyle