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CHICAGO -- When Patrice Bergeron won the Selke Trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward in 2012, the Boston Bruins center described it as a nice honor but said he would rather earn a team award -- the Stanley Cup.
On Friday, the league announced that Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is this season's recipient of the Selke, while Bergeron finished second. The Blackhawks hold a 1-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup finals against the Bruins, and Bergeron is one of the main reasons Boston is still playing.
Bergeron, however, did win the King Clancy Trophy for the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities both on and off the ice and has made noteworthy humanitarian contributions to the community.
"It means a lot, it's a huge honor. Obviously, anytime you have the chance to help out the community, it's something that speaks a lot to me and I want to do," Bergeron said. "Like I said it's a huge honor, and I'm very happy about it. I like to lead by example and just work as hard as I can on and off the ice and help whoever I can."
It's hard to fathom that the 27-year-old Bergeron has been in the league for 10 years. He arrived on the scene as the organization's second-round pick (45th overall) in the 2003 NHL entry draft, and he's been considered a true pro since day one.
|Along with captain Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron provides leadership for the Bruins.|
Former Bruins coach Mike Sullivan witnessed firsthand the beginning of Bergeron's pro career.
"I remember going through the rookie camp that first year and he just stood out how good he was and how smart he was and how competitive he was to the point where all of us, it was really a consensus that we should bring him to the big camp," Sullivan told ESPNBoston.com "So he went to the big camp and we said we'll see how he does against the NHL players and we'll go from there.
"He came to the big camp and he continued to impress all of us with his competitiveness and his smarts. He's just a really good hockey player and it evolved to a point where when we were at the end of the training camp that year, we said, 'This kid is one of the top 20 players in our camp and he deserves to be on our team.'"
On the ice, Bergeron handled himself well. But there were a few obstacles as a non-English-speaking 18-year-old.
"I remember he didn't speak English nearly as well as he does now, and he probably never had a checking account before, and here he is now and he's going to play for the Boston Bruins," Sullivan said. "It was one of those things where we were going to watch him, because a lot of times when a young player comes in, he's playing on adrenaline and it's very difficult to sustain that level of play once the reality and the grind of the NHL sets in.
"We had all, quite frankly, expected his game to probably settle in but it never did. He just continued to get better from day one. At the beginning of the year he was playing a periphery role on the team and by the playoffs, when we played Montreal in that first round, he was in the top six of the forwards and was playing an integral part of any of the success that we had."
It was evident during his first training camp that Bergeron had the potential to be a great hockey player, and he has achieved that level in the NHL. Sullivan remembers telling Bergeron he made the team.
"I was thrilled for him and I know he was excited," Sullivan said. "One of the challenges that we faced at that time was, we were a little bit concerned about his living arrangements. Here's a kid from Quebec that we're going to drop into the middle of a big city in Boston and expect him to find his way, so it was important to us that we try to build support mechanisms around him. We had a really good group of players those years I was there and I remember going to the captains and having a discussion with them, and Marty Lapointe said to me, 'Hey, Sully, don't worry about it. It's already taken care of, he's going to live with me.' Marty opened his home and his family to Bergy and once again that's a testament to the type of guy Marty is and the two have now built a relationship that will last a lifetime."
Sullivan described Bergeron as mature beyond his years, both on and off the ice. Even as a young player, he had a certain level of humility about him, and that hasn't changed. He always says the right things and represents the Bruins and the NHL well.
"It doesn't surprise me the impact and the influence he's having on any success that the Bruins are enjoying to this point," Sullivan said. "He's a high-stakes player. When the games are important is when he's at his best."
It's uncommon in today's sports world for a player to remain with one organization his entire career. But if there's one player who deserves to, it's Bergeron.
"For his sake I'd love to see him remain in Boston. He's quietly one of the most complete players in the league," Sullivan said. "His ability to win faceoffs, his ability to play in all three zones, and he's such a high-stakes player, that the more important the games become the better he plays. He raises his level of play to the importance of the games and that's one of the things I admire the most about him.
"For his sake it would be terrific for him to stay in a Boston Bruins jersey, but for selfish reasons I'd love to have him on a team that I'm coaching because that's how much I think of him as a guy and a player. He's just one terrific player and he's always been a guy since I've moved around in the league to this point, that I always keep an eye on because he holds a special place in my heart for the type of player he is, and more importantly the type of person he is. He's a quality individual."
Bergeron's rookie season in 2003-04 was also Sullivan's first time as a head coach in the NHL. The Bruins had hired him to coach their AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins, in 2002. He spent one season with the P-Bruins before being named Bruins coach.
"I was a young coach, he was a young player and we kind of grew up there for a couple of years," Sullivan said. "That probably helped our relationship as well. He was a guy, as young as he was, when I was coaching him was mature beyond his years. He just always said the right things to the media, and always had the right comments to his teammates. The longer I coached there, he became more and more an integral part of the core of the team. Even as a young player, he was assuming a leadership role and he handled it so well and with such humility. He's one of those guys that distinctly has those leadership qualities that it takes to lead in this league. He displayed those from day one."
It's an interesting debate whether or not Bergeron is a Hall of Fame player. He's already accomplished so much in the NHL and he's still young.
"He will have a career that most people that are close to the game will certainly admire, myself included," Sullivan said. "The type of player that he is, the type of person he is, the impact he has on the community, he's certainly a guy that is a great ambassador for hockey in all aspects. Whether or not he achieves Hall of Fame status or not, it would be great if he did, but even if he didn't, for guys like me, we certainly admire what he's been able to accomplish so far."
So, on Friday Bergeron did not win the Selke Award. He finished second. That's OK in his mind because he would rather the Bruins finish first and hoist the Cup after this series.
"He plays the game the right way. He's underrated as an elite player but he's very good in every aspect of the game," Sullivan said.