Berard feels Jack Johnson's pain

Bryan Berard (seen here with filmmaker Kevin Connolly in April 2013) now works for a wealth-management team. Mike Coppola/Getty Images

The heartbreaking revelation last week about Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson's dire financial situation was unthinkable to some, but it wasn't shocking to those who know the potential pitfalls many wealthy professional athletes face.

Former NHL player Bryan Berard, now 37, has experienced that ugly side firsthand. He lost more than $3 million of his earnings in an alleged scam that spanned more than a decade and affected several other former NHL players.

Phil Kenner and Tommy Constantine are facing federal fraud and money-laundering charges for their roles in the financial scheme. The case is still going through the judicial system, and the two face 15 to 17 years in prison if convicted, according to previous reports in the New York Daily News.

Berard cannot go into details about the case -- he likely will be called as a witness -- but he wants to share what he can about his own story in hopes that he can help prevent other players from going through the financial problems he endured.

Berard, who now works in business development for Whalerock Point Partners, a Providence, Rhode Island-based wealth-management team, has spent the past two years speaking at the NHL's rookie orientation program about the importance of financial responsibility from a young age.

"Really, I just push on them to educate themselves," Berard said in a telephone conversation this week. "The biggest mistake I made was trusting [Kenner and Constantine]. All I thought about was playing. I was always too scared to ask questions or didn't want to. [I tell players] 'Just educate yourself about where your money is going.' "

Berard, who played 11 seasons in the NHL, stresses to the rookies the importance of establishing good habits with their finances as well. Though a player might be blinded by the temptations that come with lucrative contracts and hefty paychecks, an NHL career can be short-lived.

Berard knows about that -- he suffered a devastating eye injury in 2000, and is currently involved in litigation over the hefty insurance settlement he was forced to pay back when he returned to play in 2002.

"You have to realize money isn't coming in forever," he said.

Budgeting is vital, too, Berard said, and that can be tough for kids who come from modest upbringings like himself. The former first overall draft pick (in 1995, by the Ottawa Senators) grew up as one of six children in a blue-collar family in Rhode Island that lived paycheck to paycheck. Budgeting was not something he or his siblings learned from an early age.

Nor was he guided on how to spot the type of unsavory characters who tend to come out of the woodwork and latch on to players once they spot a meal ticket.

Berard advises that players form an inner circle of people they trust and to be wary of those whose intentions seem questionable.

"Keep your eyes open," he said.

A person who, say, always seems to be up for a nice dinner or a luxury vacation but rarely pulls out his own wallet to pay for anything. Treating close friends and family members is nice to do, just as long as a player isn't being taken advantage of in the process.

Unfortunately, Berard believes it happens with a staggering frequency. In fact, he thinks Johnson likely saw red flags even if he was loath to believe them.

"Jack probably saw it a long time ago and didn't know how to handle it," Berard said. "Money can bring out powerful things in people, and if the right people were handling [Johnson's] finances, someone would have said, 'Enough is enough.' "