Now Peter chimes in to preview Friday’s game between his Bruins and Jeff’s Wings. Following the recent headlines about concussions, Peter tells the story of another great comeback, Patrice Bergeron.
The hockey world’s eyes are on Pittsburgh this week, as Sidney Crosby returns from his concussion problems and tries to regain his spot as the NHL’s best player (though he may have already done that-the kid can play!).
Boston fans are unfortunately all too familiar with concussions, post-concussion syndrome and uncertainty that they bring. Marc Savard, the Bruins former #1 center, looks as if he will never play again after 2 concussions in 10 months. Savard still suffers from headaches, dizziness, memory problems and depression and struggles to live a normal life. He is trying to fill his days with coaching his son’s hockey team and playing golf (Savard is nearly a professional level golfer), but he no doubt looks at what could have been as his team won a cup and has a good shot at another this season without him.
Boston nearly had another tragic story on its hands in Patrice Bergeron. Thankfully, Bergeron now is healthy, a Stanley Cup champ and is finally getting some of the recognition he deserves.
Hopefully this season, with the Bruins on national TV nearly every week, fans of teams across the league will start to see Bergeron as what he is: one of the best all-around players in the game today.
Bergeron broke onto the scene as an 18 year-old 2nd round pick in 2003. Looking back, it seems amazing that 44 times, NHL GMs thought that there was a better player to take in the draft, before Boston took Bergeron 45th overall. However, Bergeron was simply a bit of a late bloomer.
He was a kid who just kept getting better and better and advancing up the hockey ladder. In 2000-01, he was playing Bantam AA. Good hockey no doubt, but not the place future NHL All-Stars usually are at 15.
He was taken in the 5th round of the QMJHL draft that spring and advanced to Midget AAA for a season, before playing one year of Major Junior in ’02-’03 where he put up a solid 23-50-73 line in 70 games played.
That fall, he was expected to participate in Bruins camp and be returned to his junior team, but he simply played so well that he forced the Bruins to keep him on the NHL roster. He played the wing on the 3rd line that season and got better and better.
His 16 goals and 23 assists in the regular season were solid and his goal and 3 assists in 7 playoff games were very good (especially as Joe Thornton went 7 games with a 0-0-0 scoring line as the teams “star #1 center”). What made Bergeron’s play even more special was that he was an 18 year-old kid who played like a veteran. He skated all out, never took a shift off and was defensively responsible.
The following year was lost to the fans as the NHL lockout, but Bergeron played the season in the AHL and put up 61 points in 68 games. Another league, another solid year. Back in the NHL post-lockout, his development continued over the next two seasons, both of which saw him score 70+ points. He started the ’07-’08 season strong as well, but everything came to a screeching halt on October 27th.
That night, the Bruins faced off against the Philadelphia Scumbags, aka the Flyers. Bergeron raced into the offensive zone after a puck behind the net and was demolished from behind by Randy Jones, leaving Bergeron lying motionless and unconscious on the ice. Jones would miss the next two games with a suspension, while Bergeron would miss the remainder of the season with a broken nose and a severe concussion.
For Boston fans, there was a great fear that we were seeing a replay of Normand Leveille. In 1982, Leveille was a rising star on the Bruins, but suffered a brain aneurysm during a game and never played again.
While Bergeron was laying on the ice, some Bruins fans (myself included) initially worried that he was paralyzed or worse. The hit simply looked that bad. When he made his first public appearance Nov. 8, with sunken eyes, seeming disoriented and wearing a neck brace, fears that he would never return to the ice were still strong in Bruins fans’ minds.
Fortunately, Bergeron returned to the ice in the fall of ’08. Unfortunately he wasn’t the same player, missing the explosiveness and creativity that had captivated fans early is his career. He scored just 8 goals, adding 31 assists for a somewhat disappointing 39 points. On the plus side, his strong defensive play remained and with David Krejci and Marc Savard in the fold, Bergeron was able to ease himself back in as the Bruins #3 center. The next two seasons saw Bergeron improve, with 52 and 57 points respectively.
He anchored the Bruins #3 line, then the 2nd line when Savard was lost, with Mark Recchi and a variety of other wingers. The line provided decent offense and absolutely rock solid, intelligent play all over the ice.
The Bruins Cup run last spring finally gave Bergeron the stage to introduce himself properly to the hockey world. Players of his style are hard to appreciate unless you watch them game after game. The little things: the face off wins, back checking, defensive zone coverage and touch passes on the breakout don’t jump out of the stat sheet. However, when those things lead to 20 points in 23 playoff games and raising the Stanley Cup with an ‘A’ on your jersey, people start to take a little more notice.
Those little things are the reason that Bergeron has a Cup ring, a gold medal, a World Championship and a World Junior Championship (where he beat out linemate Sidney Crosby for the scoring title and MVP award in ’05). He’s the 25th member of the “Triple Gold Club” (Cup, plus WC and Olympic gold) and the first player ever to win a Senior World Championship (’04) before winning a Junior World Championship.
To top all that off, while Patrice may not be the most physical player on the ice, but his toughness is without question. Just ask Josh Gorges, the only NHL player to have fought Bergeroni n a game that I was lucky enough to attend. It was game 2 of another great Montreal-Boston playoff series and the Bruins smoked the Habs 5-1, but for Bruins fans everywhere, that fight was the highlight of the night.
As if all that wasn’t enough, Bergeron has this year taken his offensive game to the next level. Paired a handful of games into this season with, for the first time in years, two fast, skilled wingers in Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand (no offense to Mark Recchi’s Hall of Fame skills, but he was 43 last spring and the wheels were a bit slow), Bergeron has 14 points in his last 14 games. He looks like the 2007 Bergeron in the offensive zone and is still one of the premiere defensive forwards in the NHL. His line is among the most entertaining in the NHL and the Bruins must be ecstatic to have their future super-star Seguin sitting next to Bergeron day after day learning how to be a pro.
I will be so bold as to predict that Bergeron will accept his first Selke Trophy at the NHL Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas next June. Not necessarily because this will be his best defensive season, but because the NHL bizarrely seems to feel that a player needs to score at least 60-70 points to win an award for defense. The point totals and the Stanley Cup cred will finally put Bergeron over the top.
So, sit down Friday and turn on NBC to watch the Bruins – Red Wings game. It’ll be great hockey between two of the NHL’s best teams. Pay close attention to #37 in black and you’ll see the little things. Bergeron v. Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk will be a matchup of two of the smartest, classiest and most skilled players in the game. If there’s a kid in your house, point out those guys and tell them that that’s how you play hockey.”
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