'Kind of surreal': Cameron Berg, family reflect on becoming first NHL Draft pick from West Fargo
Cameron Berg, taken in the fourth round, No. 125 overall by the New York Islanders in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, is the first West Fargo native to be drafted into the National Hockey League
OMAHA, Neb. — Dawn Berg still remembers the reaction from some people when they heard her family was moving to a suburb of St. Paul so her two children could attend a hockey academy.
There were the sarcastic "good luck" replies, and a few comments, like: “Oh, what, you think he’s ever going to play in the NHL?”
Well, her son, Cameron, who was around 12 years old when the family moved from West Fargo to White Bear Lake, just might.
Cameron was getting ready to practice during the first day of USA Hockey’s World Junior Championship Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Mich., when one of the guys at the camp came up to him and said, “Hey, congrats. You’ve just been drafted.” Cameron, an incoming freshman at Nebraska Omaha, had to be on the ice in two minutes.
Soon, his phone rang. On the other end was New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello, welcoming him to the organization.
Cameron was selected in the fourth round, No. 125 overall by the Islanders in the NHL Entry Draft a couple weeks ago. He’s the only West Fargo native ever to be drafted.
Cameron finished the phone call and went out onto the ice, while family members toasted to him at a draft party held at the Berg home in White Bear Lake.
“We didn’t even get to talk to him for probably a couple hours after it all happened,” Dawn said. “It was a very long two hours.”
Cameron, a 6-foot, 190-pound centerman, played for the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the United States Hockey League last season. He had been waiting for his name to be called all day.
“At this tryout I was at, everyone was getting drafted throughout the day,” Cameron said. “So you’re kind of just waiting to see when it’s gonna be your turn.”
It was also a sense of relief. Cameron thought he had a chance to be drafted in the later rounds of the 2020 NHL draft, but was passed up. He used that as motivation to improve his game last season.
“I put in all this work and it’s one step closer to actually achieving the dream,” said Cameron, who earned All-USHL third team honors last season. “It was just a really nice feeling.”
Cameron tallied 58 points (27 goals, 31 assists) in 51 games for the Lumberjacks last year and was the seventh-top scorer in the USHL. He spent most of the 2019-20 season with Muskegon after a trade from the Omaha Lancers, recording 18 goals and 30 points in the 32-game stretch with the Lumberjacks.
Cameron was one of 44 players to attend USA Hockey’s Summer Showcase, held July 24-31. The showcase serves as an evaluation tool to help select the final roster that will compete at this year’s World Junior Championship, which will be played Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta.
Performance throughout the fall and first half of the season will also play into the final roster.
“I thought I played the way that I needed to to be able to make the team,” Cameron said. “I just kind of took the most of the opportunity I got and whatever happens, happens.”
Cameron was born into a family of “huge” University of North Dakota fans. The family has the team's logo all over, Dawn said.
“It will be tough going to the UND game,” Dawn said. “It’ll be the first time we have to cheer against UND, but our kid takes the loyalty.”
The Mavericks travel to Grand Forks in January for a two-game series against the Fighting Hawks. Omaha also closes the regular season with a home series against North Dakota.
The Bergs moved to White Bear Lake seven years ago, but Dawn said West Fargo is “home” to both kids. They decided as a family to relocate so Cameron and his older sister, Alexa, could attend a hockey academy, where they had a daily slate of school, training and on-ice practice.
Both Cameron and Alexa were being scouted by a hockey school in the area, known then as Northern Educate Achiever Academy. Alexa, a goalie, will be a senior at Norwich University, an NCAA Division III school in Vermont. In her three seasons with the Cadets, she’s played in 25 games, posting a .929 career save percentage.
The playing careers didn't come without shared sacrifice by the family. But two weeks ago, the Bergs got confirmation that it was well worth it.
“Excitement. Proud. Cried happy tears,” Dawn said. “We as a family had invested so much. It was kind of surreal, to be honest.”
Dawn and her husband, who coached hockey, put both their kids on skates when they were 18 months old. Cameron’s earliest memories all involve hockey, though he almost quit the sport as a kid. He hated practice, and his helmet hurt his head. He wanted to quit halfway through the season, but his parents said he made a commitment and had to finish out the year.
“What we found out is he was just bored,” Dawn said. “So we petitioned the Board to move him up a level because he was supposed to play another year of termites. From there, he never complained again."
Cameron had always been a little faster, and scored a little bit more than the other kids. Other parents had taken notice, but it wasn’t until a tournament in Jamestown when Dawn realized her son's athletic ceiling was high.
Cameron’s team, coached by his dad, was down 11-0 to the other West Fargo hockey team in the tournament. Not happy with how the game was going, Cameron went out and scored 11 goals in a row, himself.
“The other coach said OK, let’s just call it a tie,” said Dawn, who still laughs when she recalls the story.
USHL fans witnessed those goal-scoring abilities in Muskegon. Cameron could push for some playing time this year, and feels like he’ll be ready if and when his number is called.
Omaha, which went 14-11-1 in the pandemic-shortened campaign, opens the season at home against Lake Superior State on Oct. 2.
“I think it’s gonna be a good year. I think I’m ready. I know all the guys here are pumped up and excited for the season to start,” he said. “We have a good group and we could go all the way.”