Bergeron makes the grade in Boston

Fans, teammates can't get enough of center, who came a long way in a short time

Updated: June 14, 2013, 9:55 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- Is the measure of the man in how many goals he scores, assists he gets, faceoffs he wins?

Is it in how his peers and teammates view him?

Is it in the words spoken or the deeds performed?

If you're lucky, as the Boston Bruins are, and you view Patrice Bergeron through all these prisms, it is impossible to choose just one quality because the answer is yes and yes and yes.

A thousand times yes.

And yet here is what is appealing about the young Bruins center: Even though he is playing in his second Stanley Cup finals in three years and has won everything there is to win, including a nomination for a second straight Selke Trophy as the NHL's best two-way forward, there is something almost impossibly understated about Bergeron.

Since coming into the NHL as a shy francophone who spoke almost no English and needed help setting up a bank account, Bergeron has followed a virtual straight line to the rarefied atmosphere occupied by the game's best players. He has scored some of the biggest goals in Bruins history, won a gold medal with Canada at the 2010 Olympics, hoisted the Stanley Cup. But while the distance he has traveled as a player is vast, he remains steadfastly grounded and similar to the shy young man who first bunked with Martin Lapointe and played ball hockey with Lapointe's children.

"He was a good kid. I met his parents and right away you could see he was brought up the right way," Lapointe told ESPN.com. "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

When it became clear that Bergeron, selected 45th overall by Boston in the 2003 draft, was going to make the big club, Lapointe stepped up immediately and said he would host Bergeron in his home.

[+] EnlargePatrice Bergeron
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesPatrice Bergeron embraced the support provided by former teammates Mark Recchi and Martin Lapointe.
Bergeron had few language skills and even fewer life skills, and Lapointe and his family were a godsend. Lapointe helped Bergeron set up a bank account, showed him how to pay bills, suggested investment advisers and -- perhaps most important -- gave him a safe, comfortable haven away from the life of being a pro hockey player.

"I do have some vivid memories. At the same time, it's a while ago, it's 10 years, it's crazy," Bergeron told ESPN.com. "But I have some really good memories. The whole family was awesome, they were great with me, so welcoming right away.

"The kids were awesome. Played a lot of ball hockey and street hockey and whatnot. It was great for me too. It gave me a chance to take my mind off hockey and just have fun and be a kid with them for an hour or two."

Lapointe, now the director of player development for the Montreal Canadiens, recalled that the young Bergeron, still growing into his frame, would sleep long into the day, something his children couldn't quite understand as they waited impatiently for Bergeron to wake up so they could begin playing hockey in the basement or the driveway.

"He wasn't waking up like me, at 5:30 or 6 in the morning," Lapointe said. "The kids couldn't wait for Patrice to get up."

Mike Sullivan was the Bruins' coach at the time. He told ESPNBoston.com's Joe McDonald how impressive he thought Bergeron was in the player's first training camp.

"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 said. "So he went to the big game and we said, 'We'll see how he does against NHL players and we'll go from there.'

"He's just a really good hockey player, and it evolved to a point where 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.'"

Lapointe, who won two Stanley Cups as a player with the Detroit Red Wings, recalled being impressed with Bergeron's dedication to his craft. In his dealings with young players, Lapointe will sometimes encounter some who are satisfied with being drafted or invited to a training camp, believing that their work is done.

Bergeron was never satisfied.

"He didn't have that attitude," Lapointe said. "He knew he had to work hard. His attitude was the key for me."

It's fascinating to trace the arc of a professional hockey player like Bergeron. Yes, there is innate talent, something bred in the bone that allows him to succeed. But it's a complicated equation. There has to be the will to be better, the understanding of decisions made that determine a career path.

And there are the influences of people such as Lapointe and, later in Bergeron's career, veteran winger Mark Recchi. If Lapointe and his family were instrumental in helping assimilate Bergeron to the lifestyle of a pro hockey player, then Recchi was the one who helped Bergeron define himself as an elite player and a leader.

Bergeron I don't think you appreciate him as much until you play with him. He was such a pro at such an early age. You could see he got it already.

-- Mark Recchi, on
Patrice Bergeron (above)
Almost from the moment Recchi arrived in Boston, he played on a line with Bergeron. The two became fast friends in spite of their age difference. Neither was particularly boisterous or outspoken, so they were drawn to each other.

As time passed and Bergeron watched Recchi prepare for games and how he behaved off the ice, Recchi conceded that he too learned from how Bergeron approached the game.

"I don't think you appreciate him as much until you play with him," Recchi told ESPN.com this week. "He was such a pro at such an early age. You could see he got it already. He knew how to prepare.

"He's such a great guy, you could tell the evolution of the leadership was coming," added Recchi, now in the front office with the Dallas Stars. "He would watch how I would react to certain things, what I would do. He gets it and wanted to learn and wanted to understand."

Even though Recchi has moved on in his career, he remains very much connected to Bergeron. When Bergeron was recognized for his work as the game's top defensive forward with the Selke Trophy last season, Recchi reveled in the accomplishment.

"That was one of the best days for me," he said. "It was so exciting for me."

Not surprisingly, Bergeron marks his relationships with both players as seminal moments in his evolution as a player and as a person.

"They've had some huge roles in different stages in my career," he said. "Marty took me under his wing when I really needed it. I was an 18-year-old kid that could barely speak English. First time in professional world I guess, on my own, and he really did everything for me that year. He was awesome on and off the ice, and I'll never be able to thank him enough for what he did.

"And Rex, same thing. He showed me the ropes at a point in my career, a stage in my career where I needed to be more vocal and find ways to be better, become a better leader."

You can track a player like Bergeron through the normal avenues, but the core elements of a player and a person might be harder to grasp. Did he score both the tying and winning goals in a Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs to salvage a first-round series that seemed hopelessly lost? Yes.

Did he score in double overtime in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, a goal that in effect doomed the Pittsburgh Penguins? Yes.

But listen to observers and opponents, and you get a fuller picture of how Bergeron is viewed. When there were team issues that needed to be dealt with in the locker room a couple of years ago, Bergeron was one of the core players who had a key role in smoothing things out. The Bruins went on to win the Stanley Cup in 2011, and Bergeron scored the winning goal in Game 7.

Along with captain Zdeno Chara, Bergeron has shouldered a significant leadership burden in the Bruins' room.

"They're in the media a lot, but their comments, their way of thinking is very team-oriented," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told ESPN.com. "Bergy, he has such a selfless side to his game, and that's consistent with his personality. He takes pride in defending, and it's very rare you get a player like that who can be such a good offensive player."

One team executive described Bergeron to ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun as Jonathan Toews without the profile.

[+] EnlargePatrice Bergeron
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsBergeron became a face of the Bruins' franchise soon after arriving as a second-round pick in 2003.
Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith played with Bergeron on the Canadian Olympic team in 2010 and has high praise for Bergeron as a player and a teammate.

"I didn't really know him before the Olympics, but I got to know him a little bit there during the Olympics," Keith said. "I can't say enough good things about him. He's obviously a big part of their team, big leader. Getting a chance to play with him at the Olympics, you really appreciate what he brings to the team on and off the ice. He was a great teammate there, great guy. He's always a guy you'd like to have on your team."

Can you draw a line from the moments of riding to and from Boston's TD Garden with Lapointe and having dinners on the road and talking diet and preparation with Recchi to things like a championship and individual awards?

Of course.

More to the point, can you draw a line between those moments, those connections and another generation of young Bruins such as Brad Marchand, or beyond to guys such as Dougie Hamilton or prospect Ryan Spooner?

Of course.

You can talk about the importance of leadership and how it manifests itself in a dressing room, but you might not know whether you actually have it until you see it.

Bergeron has seen it, learned from it, evolved as a result and now embodies that kind of mentality.

Win or lose in this series, that's unlikely to change.

"It's something that I've always told myself that at some point, I'd like to do what Marty did with one of the kids, one of the young guys," Bergeron said. "Even now I'm trying to be there for the young guys if they need something, and just show by example, just to try to lead the way by example.

"But definitely something I learned from them is the way they handled themselves off the ice, and I try and do that."