Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Updated: January 25, 12:14 PM ET
Bergeron grateful for second chance
By Scott Burnside
For all of you out there who believe that Boston's Patrice Bergeron can do anything he sets his mind to, we're here to tell you he cannot.
Yes, he put behind him a potential career-ending injury to win an Olympic gold medal and then scored the Game 7 winner last June in the Bruins' first Stanley Cup championship since 1972. And he's played himself into consideration as the game's top two-way forward and has earned the undying respect of his coaching staff and teammates.
But he cannot teach himself to play guitar.
He's tried. He's followed lessons online, but the music aficionado cannot get it right. So Bergeron has admitted a rare defeat and will at some point in the near future hire an instructor to teach him to play.
"It's just not working," Bergeron acknowledged after a recent practice.
But for a guy who has become the Bruins' most important forward and who represents one of the three pillars on which the Bruins are built (along with netminder Tim Thomas and defenseman Zdeno Chara), we're willing to cut him a little slack.
"He's so important to us. He's my go-to guy in all situations," Bruins coach Claude Julien told ESPN.com in a recent interview.
Down a goal late in a game? Bergeron goes over the boards.
Need a crucial faceoff taken? Bergeron.
Need to protect a late lead? Bergeron.
"No doubt, he's the guy I lean on up front," Julien said.
For all of Bergeron's successes -- he won a world championship before he won a world junior championship -- it's hard to imagine that he is not playing the best hockey of his already-distinguished career.
As the center between dynamic young wingers Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin, Bergeron is lighting it up offensively while continuing to deliver a two-way game that should see him nominated for a Frank J. Selke Trophy at the end of the season.
Not that Bergeron, just 26 years old, is enjoying a boost to his profile. He was recently overlooked as a potential All-Star (linemate Seguin is going) even as an injury fill-in.
"I don't care. It's not something I should stop and worry about," he said of his low profile.
"I take pride in looking after the little details in the game. I know that sometimes it goes unnoticed, but I'm OK with that. My teammates see it, and that's all that matters to me."
There is more than a little circular element to Bergeron's evolution with the Bruins and the team's continued success.
The last couple of years Bergeron learned at the knee of veteran Mark Recchi, playing alongside Recchi, dressing in the stall next to him, hanging out off the ice. Recchi, the NHL's oldest player a year ago, retired after the Bruins' Cup win. Meanwhile, Bergeron has become a much more vocal part of the Bruins' leadership core.
"There's a lot of stuff that goes on with a team that you don't see," GM Peter Chiarelli told ESPN.com.
A good team is like a family, and families have squabbles, Chiarelli said. And Bergeron is one of the guys who helps the Bruins sort through their trials and tribulations.
If a guy is getting picked on or is the butt of practical jokes, Bergeron is the one who steps in, Marchand said.
Julien said you can tell a lot about Bergeron from his decisions away from the ice. He's not out partying. He lives in a modest place.
"Everything's very well-thought out with Patrice. You'll never see him going out, never," Julien said. "He's a simple guy. He's not your typical 26-year-old."
You often hear about a young player evolving as a leader. But what does that mean?
For Julien, it is in the moments that Bergeron chooses to speak. Like between the second and third periods of a recent game against New Jersey. The Bruins' play had slipped a little and they trailed the Devils 1-0. Bergeron got up and told his teammates that there was more in the dressing room than the team had showed, that they were better than they were showing. In the third, the Bruins scored four times to come away with a 4-1 victory.
In Saturday's exciting overtime loss to the New York Rangers, the Bergeron unit was buzzing. Although it did not register a point, the next day it combined for two goals and three assists and a shootout goal in a thrilling 6-5 shootout win over Philadelphia.
National analyst and former NHLer Keith Jones likens Bergeron to former Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour, who was instrumental in the Hurricanes' ascending to a Cup championship in 2006.
What Bergeron brings to the Bruins is "really making players around him better players, like Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin this year," Jones told ESPN.com.
There is more than a little circular evolution going on in the relationship between Bergeron and his two talented young linemates.
Seguin, like Bergeron, joined the Bruins at age 18. As Bergeron soaked up information from veteran teammates, Seguin watches closely how Bergeron conducts himself, how he prepares himself and how he behaves on the ice and away from the rink.
"I almost never see him with anything in his hand but a water bottle. That's how dedicated he is," Seguin, a No. 2 overall draft pick, told ESPN.com. "Sometimes I look at Bergy and it's like he's a 35-year-old man, he's so mature."
Marchand admitted he expected a player such as Bergeron, who came to the NHL following a stellar offensive career in junior hockey, to perhaps cheat, cut some corners to pump up the point totals.
"I realized he's the first guy to get into defensive position every single time," Marchand said. "It's crazy to see how fast he gets back. He definitely makes me and [Seguin] better players."
Indeed, if there is one reason the Bruins are considered Cup favorites at the season's midpoint, it's been the emergence of this forward unit as an elite complement to the team's nominal No. 1 line of center David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton. The prowess of the Bergeron line is a catalyst for the Bruins' league-leading offense (3.55 goals per game).
"He can be the guy if they need him to be the guy," Jones said, preferring to describe Bergeron as a 1B to Krejci's 1A.
Daniel Paille is among Bergeron's best friends on the team. He describes Bergeron as more determined than manically competitive. Does he like to win at whatever he's tackling? Sure. But it's more the competition, the evolution.
"It's not so much he wants to win, but he wants to improve," Paille said.
There is, of course, no way to tell Bergeron's story without mentioning what might have been. There is no way to chart his career path without acknowledging how close that path came to ending.
"He's realized he was that close to having a career-ending injury. He knows he almost lost the thing that he enjoyed the most," Julien said.
Early in the 2007-08 season, Philadelphia's Randy Jones drove Bergeron headfirst into the corner boards, leaving him prone on the ice. With that concussion, he missed the rest of that season before returning to the ice the next year.
Bergeron has twice since suffered concussions, including one during last year's playoffs, when he was hit by Philadelphia's Claude Giroux.
Bergeron is good friends with Sidney Crosby, whose concussion issues have made national headlines. And Bergeron's teammate, Marc Savard, has suffered a severe concussion that appears to have ended his career.
If anything, Bergeron appears to have been galvanized by his experiences.
"After winning the Cup, I definitely believe that everything happens for a reason. I can handle adversity a lot better," Bergeron said.
Those moments when he couldn't leave his downtown condo for days after the Jones hit or having to meet his teammates the first time after the injury, sitting in a wheelchair because he couldn't walk into the rink on his own steam, are in the past but they are not forgotten.
They are a part of Bergeron's DNA, if you will, and a constant reminder of his good fortune.
"I think we've all grown as players here experience-wise," he said.
"Individually and as a team. It's experience you can't buy. It's definitely made me a better person. I think it makes me appreciate it even more."
|Patrice Bergeron has bounced back from a tough couple of years.|
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.