By: Mandi Mahoney | Check me out on Twitter @phonymahoney
There’s a quiet grace about Patrice Bergeron that makes people forget exactly how good a player he is, and it’s unbelievable how long he’s been an important fixture in the Bruins’ lineup. One of the best players in the world, Bergeron is a member of the Triple Gold Club (World Junior Championship, Olympics, and Stanley Cup), and a four-time Selke Trophy winner, as the National Hockey League’s best defensive forward. This is a player who is so consistently effective night in and night out, that the only reason any of the milestones he’s achieved as a Bruin have been remotely surprising is because it’s so easy to forget he’s been with the team for 15 years. Tonight, he will play in his one thousandth NHL game – the other 999 have all been with the Boston Bruins, and we should all be grateful for it.
Despite the Bruins’ history as one of the oldest NHL teams, there are only four former Bruins who have played one thousand games in Black and Gold: legendary defenseman Ray Bourque (1518), Johnny “Chief” Bucyk (1436), current GM Don Sweeney (1052), and an important cog in those powerful 1970s teams, Wayne Cashman (1027). Patrice is in good company with those guys, and it shows what an important role he has continually played since arriving in Boston as an 18-year-old. It’s not unreasonable to think that when Bergeron skates off the Garden ice for the final time, he could be second or third on the list.
Bergeron came to Boston after he was selected 45th overall in the second round of the 2003 NHL entry draft – a draft class that is regarded as one of the deepest and most talented to date. He made a good impression almost immediately in Boston, but nobody could possibly have guessed the impact he would have on the organization for years to come. He would soon prove to be the organization’s hardest working prospect, forcing his way onto the Bruins’ roster immediately after being drafted. When he made his NHL debut as an 18-year-old Quebec Major Junior Hockey League alum, Patrice was only a year removed from having been cut from his junior team and was the NHL’s youngest player. Bruins fans didn’t know much about him, but they would be in for a pleasant surprise.
During his rookie season, Patrice mostly played wing on the Bruins’ second line alongside Brian Rolston and Marty Lapointe, who invited the teenage Bergeron to live with him. Bergeron could only speak French when he got to the Hub, and living with Lapointe didn’t help, as his family mainly spoke French at home, so Bergeron had to teach himself English over the next couple of seasons. Language skills be damned, Patrice was successful skating alongside Lapointe and Rolston, and enjoyed some success on that line, scoring 16 goals and assisting on 23 for a total of 39 points. He finished 8th in Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) voting, which teammate Andrew Raycroft ultimately won after Bergeron missed time due to a groin injury. He was the only 18 year old to receive Calder votes that season.
He played with Michael Nylander and Sergei Samsonov after the trade deadline and in the playoffs, and the trio formed a short-lived but very fun-to-watch line. The Bruins were bounced by the Habs in a very memorable series, and the following season, the NHL did not play. Bergeron headed to Providence to play in the American Hockey League, where he worked on his game and fine-tuned a few things so he’d be even further improved when the NHL returned to action.
It was early in his career that then-Bruins GM Mike O’Connell and company decided that Bergeron was the player to build their team around, rather than Captain Joe Thornton. Patrice had shown unexpected maturity since day one, as well as a team-first attitude – it was never about him – he did whatever his coaches and management asked. He put in even more work than they asked. It was a no brainer that Bergeron should be the future of the organization, as he had the talent and work ethic to set a good example for the rest of the team.
His career hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows, however. In the tenth game of the 2007-08 season, Randy Jones of the Flyers hit Bergeron from behind, pushing Bergeron into the boards head-first, knocking him unconscious, breaking his nose, and causing a grade three concussion. Anyone who watched that game can attest to how scary it was when Bergeron went down. Ultimately, he was unable to return until the following season. In December 2008, two months after making his return, Bergeron collided with future Bruin Dennis Seidenberg and suffered another concussion. He didn’t regain his old form until later in 2009.
That all feels like ancient history at this point. In 2009, the Bruins acquired well-traveled NHL veteran Mark Recchi, who had won the Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh and in Carolina. Recchi was long in the tooth by then, at 41 years old, but was still producing and was considered a smart deadline pickup. Recchi would bring more than scoring to the Bruins, though, as he helped shepherd Bergeron into the leadership role the Bruins had always wanted to see him in.
When asked about Recchi’s influence on him, Bergeron told Joe McDonald of the Athletic:
I learned to be a better leader with Rex. I never got asked that and I think that was a, I wouldn’t say a “turning point” in my career, because I think I would’ve learned the ropes, but I took a huge step with him helping me out. And that year he came in was the year I was starting to find my game again. I was still dealing with some injuries at that time, and the year before, and I was still young and trying to learn and get better. That year was really one that he showed me how to win. It’s not that I didn’t know that stuff, but more like just trying to help me grow my leadership skills. That was huge off the ice. On the ice, I had great chemistry with him and (Brad Marchand) and that’s when it started for us. That trade, obviously helped the team and we won a Stanley Cup, but for me he was a huge impact.
In response, Recchi told The Athletic about his urging Bergeron to step up and lead his team during a rough game in the 2010-11 season:
He had it in him. There’s no question he had it in him; it was just a matter of getting it out of him. I remember saying to him, “This is your time. This is your team and they need to hear you right now.” He stepped up and never looked back from there. It was awesome to see. He’s a natural leader and he had to get into that comfort zone where he felt he was there. He made it so much fun for me. It was so enjoyable to be around that. I always loved helping young guys, but when you have someone as special as (Bergeron) it makes it even more rewarding every day to play with him, practice with him and get to be around him on a daily basis. It was incredible.
There are endless stories about what a class act Bergeron is – they come from former Bruins, current Bruins, opposing players, former teammates – there is no shortage as Patrice Bergeron is everything teams want in a hockey player, on and off the ice. He’s a leader and knows how to interact with teammates, what to say and do, and when to say and do it. He takes team friendly deals. He cares about the community. There is no doubt that Bergeron will be named Captain of the Bruins when Zdeno Chara retires – for the Bruins to even consider doing anything else would be ludicrous.
Need a big goal? Count on Bergeron. A key faceoff win? Patrice is your guy. Need someone to talk his team off the ledge when their backs are against the wall? Again, #37 is your man. He was instrumental in the Bruins’ Stanley Cup win in 2011 and scored the winning goal in Vancouver in game 7. He’s so responsible, you can even trust him with your gardening needs.
There is so much positive to be said for Patrice Bergeron. He is literally the perfect hockey player. He is defensively responsible while offensively gifted (many people forget how skilled he is because he’s so unselfish), and he has managed to get through one hell of an injury history and come out on top. Bergy is a symbol of the right kind of toughness in the NHL – teams covet a player like him, who played through a Stanley Cup Final game with a punctured lung (don’t try that at home, kids). He isn’t afraid to drop the gloves if need be, but you can count his NHL fights on one hand. He has already carved his legend into the history of the Boston Bruins, and while there will undoubtedly be more Bruins milestones to come, Bergeron has already racked them up:
- 3rd in game-winning goals, all-time (tied with Ray Bourque at 60)
- 5th in games played (1000)
- 6th in goals (305) and power play goals (92)
- 7th in assists (473) and points (778)
Bergeron is right up there with the Bruins we’ve all heard about from our parents, and the ones we watched when we were kids. He is one of the Bruin greats. Think about this: Patrice Bergeron is very likely to eclipse Bobby Orr in points as a Boston Bruin. Crazy, isn’t it? We should enjoy him while we can, as he is a special player, and guys like this only come around once in a blue moon.
It’s been an absolute pleasure to watch and cheer for Bergeron in these 1,000 games – here’s to 1,000 more!