Patrice Bergeron helping Mark Recchi turn back time with Bruins
DENVER -- Mark Recchi considered the query for a moment.
When was the last time he did an interview when his age wasn't part of the questioning?
"Never," he joked.
"It's been a while," he added in an interview with ESPN.com. "Probably when I was 35?"
For the uninitiated, that was a long time ago, seven going on eight years ago.
Recchi, the oldest player in the NHL, will turn 43 in a little more than a week. You might think that constantly being queried about his age might get a bit old, like he was some kind of living science experiment. (Whoops. Did we say that?!) But the fact of the matter is, Recchi can't help but be defined by his age. It is no different than Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom, whose stellar season is almost always described in relation to the fact the defenseman is 40.
Far from being touchy about the subject, Recchi embraces it.
"It's a compliment," Recchi insisted not long before he scored a goal and added two assists in the Bruins' 6-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.
When you watch Recchi, it's hard not to see a little of Dave Andreychuk in his evolution. Both were big-time point producers in their heyday; but when Andreychuk joined a young Tampa Bay team heading into the 2001-02 season, he modified his role, helped kill penalties and mentored young stars Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis. The result was a Stanley Cup win in 2004.
Recchi, in his third season with the Bruins, has found a terrific comfort zone playing with Patrice Bergeron, often paired against opposing teams' top offensive units. He has had to modify his game and Bruins coach Claude Julien has put Recchi in situations that fit the forward's skill set.
"I know I'm not the player I was," Recchi said. "The bottom line is still winning."
The Bruins are paying Recchi handsomely to play a game, so why shouldn't he be having fun? But there are other components to his ability to defy time, and one of those components has been his relationship with Bergeron.
Recchi and Bergeron play on the same forward line and penalty-killing unit, and also spend a lot of time together off the ice. As Bergeron talked to a reporter after Saturday's game, Recchi popped over to ask if Bergeron favored steaks or pasta. The two could be seen outside the visitors' locker room doing separate interviews a few feet apart. In the locker room, the two sit next to each other.
Bergeron speaks almost reverentially about the impact Recchi has had on him, not just as a player, but also as a leader, whose import to this Bruins team cannot be understated.
"It's unbelievable," Bergeron said. "I feel blessed that he somehow ended up on my path, on my team. His leadership skills have really helped me grow as a person first, and then as a player. You couldn't ask for anything better."
Think "Crash" Davis and "Nuke" LaLoosh from "Bull Durham," and you get a sense of it. Sometimes, it's Recchi suggesting Bergeron needs to eat more carbs with his meat and vegetables, as he did during the team's trip to Prague in the fall. Sometimes, it's suggesting something on the ice or in the dressing room.
"He's there for me to tell me when it's time to step up and say something," said Bergeron, who was a member of Canada's 2010 Olympic gold medal-winning team. "I think I've grown as a leader and Rex is a big part of that."
Listening to Recchi talk about what he has gained as a 40-something player from the 25-year-old Bergeron is just as compelling. Bergeron's preparation for games and practices has been a welcome tonic for Recchi, who is the NHL's active leader in games played, assists and points. He has 13 points in his past 14 games.
"He has absolutely zero ego," Recchi said of his linemate. "It makes it so enjoyable to come to the rink because you know you're going to have a good practice. He's kept me going. I learn a lot from him."
What's that they say about old dogs and new tricks? Yeah, Recchi has heard that one before.