As the Bruins prepare for the 2013-2014 season with their first on-ice practice of training camp Thursday at TD Garden, it's hard to fathom that Bergeron's been in the NHL since 2003-2004. Even for him, it's gone by too quickly.
"I think it's crazy that it's been 10 years already," he said. "I only have great memories from those 10 years. It went fast and hopefully there's many more years in front of me." During the offseason, Bergeron, 28, earned an eight-year contract extension that will keep him in Boston for his entire career. He made that his goal during his rookie season and the Bruins rewarded him with a $52 million contract. "You think about a core person, on and off the ice, to lay a foundation with, you start with him," said Bruins assistant GM and former defenseman Don Sweeney. "He's a guy who has grown up here and set down roots here, but he's just been the consummate professional and a poster child for our organization.
"His game has continued to get better and better, and he works at it. That's the great thing for all of our younger players to recognize. He's not satisfied with the results he's had." Bergeron is a one-time Stanley Cup winner. He wants more. He's won the Selke Award once. He wants to win it again. From an international standpoint, he wants to help Team Canada and win his second Olympic gold medal this winter in Soschi.
"Those are the things you want your players in the organization to feed off of," Sweeney said.
Having that mindset as a player and a person, Bergeron doesn't feel he's exceeded expectations.
"That's a tough question," he said. "You get in as an 18-year-old, you just want to make it and see what happens, to be honest with you. And after that, you push yourself to try to be the best you can be every year. I've tried to do that since Day 1 and I've been lucky enough and fortunate enough to play on great teams and being able to win a championship, and I hope there's more to come." Boston had drafted him as its second pick (45th overall) in June 2003, but when he arrived for his first rookie camp and pulled that Bruins sweater over his head, he quickly opened eyes. He was smart. He was competitive and forced the organization to put his name on the training camp roster.
When camp opened in the fall of '03, Bergeron continued to impress. The image that stands out the most for Bergeron is his first exhibition game that season in front of family and friends in Montreal. At that time, there was some thought by Bruins management to send him back to juniors, but after Bergeron scored the game-winning goal in overtime against the Canadiens, he returned to Boston and never left.
He earned a spot on the Bruins' roster when camp broke, and even though he was described as "mature beyond his years" by then-Bruins coach Mike Sullivan, Bergeron did not speak English. He did not have a place to live. He didn't even have a checking account. The veterans on the team at the time, specifically Marty Lapointe, decided to take care of Bergeron because they knew how special of a player he was and the potential he had. Bergeron lived with Lapointe that season and treated him like a young brother. He taught Bergeron how to be a professional, and that's something Bergeron has never forgotten.
Now that he's the veteran, Bergeron is treating the younger players in a similar fashion.
"I take a lot of pride in that," Bergeron said. "It's something that helped me so much that I want to try to do the same thing. It's going to be hard to do what Marty did because it was amazing. I guess in my own way I'll try to be there for the young kids." Even the veterans on the team that are much older than Bergeron are in awe of his ability on and off the ice. "He's obviously an inspiration," said Bruins veteran Shawn Thornton. "I know I've got him by a bunch of years, but what he plays through, what he does and what he brings on a consistent basis every day. He's the type of leader everyone wants to follow. He's not leading by asking you to follow him; you want to follow him. He's that person. Anyone would agree he definitely has everyone behind him."
Bruins forward Brad Marchand enters his fourth season as Bergeron's linemate. Marchand has dealt with his share of growing pains in the NHL and there have been plenty of times Bergeron has been there to either lead by example or pull him aside for advice. "It's been great. I don't think there's a better guy you can learn from coming into the league," Marchand said. "If there's a guy that managers and coaches want on a team to win Cups, it's a guy like Bergy. Those are the guys you need on your team and I want to be that way. The best way to do that is watch him play and play beside him and learn how he reacts in every situation. I've tried to be like a sponge and take that all in. I see something new from Bergy every day that I try to copy or learn, so it's been a pleasure."
The Bruins and their fans have been blessed with a special player in each generation as the organization enters its 90th season this year. Milt Schmidt, Bobby Orr, John Bucyk, Terry O'Reilly, Ray Bourque and Cam Neely are all legends in this town. In their own ways, each contributed to the Bruins.
"When Bergy's out, he's going to be mentioned in that category," Sweeney said. "That speaks to the legacy and the history of the organization that it's carried forward. You identify certain players in certain organizations over the course of history and there's a theme and a trend there. Bergy is headed in that direction, so it'll be nice when we can talk about him in that light. But we've got a long way to go before that."