During the 2012-13 season, Adam McQuaid shared 22 games of playoff battle with Patrice Bergeron. By the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Final, through his own discomfort and what he had seen of his teammate’s similar circumstance, McQuaid knew that Bergeron had gone through hell.
A visit to Massachusetts General Hospital turned that knowledge into living color.
By the end of the conclusive Game 6 of the Blackhawks’ 4-2 series win over Bergeron’s Bruins, Bergeron was having trouble breathing. He needed professional care, fast.
In the days that followed, McQuaid and several teammates went to check on Bergeron in the hospital. It was there that it hit McQuaid just what playing through a punctured lung, broken ribs, torn rib cartilage and a separated shoulder had done to his friend: Bergeron had endured trauma usually suffered in car crashes.
“We knew he was banged up,” recalls McQuaid, now the Bruins’ player development coordinator. “But not to that extent. He wasn’t making a big scene about it. Just kind of quietly trying to battle through. I think that sums up him in a lot of ways.”
It was a theme Bergeron visited multiple times throughout his 1,294-game NHL career, which came to a conclusion Tuesday as Bergeron announced his retirement.
The cycle remained the same: fall, rise, thrive.
He succeeded because each time, Bergeron was playing for something bigger than himself.
Patrice Bergeron says goodbye. https://t.co/Z7GkC0IT7W
— Fluto Shinzawa (@FlutoShinzawa) July 25, 2023
A lasting legacy
The numbers sparkle: 1,040 career points, six Selke Trophies, one Stanley Cup ring, two Olympic gold medals. Bergeron wasn’t the fastest, strongest or most skilled player. But he was artificial intelligence before ChatGPT, armed with processing power that was not of this world. Bergeron’s exquisite hockey sense optimized his skill set to where he and his stick were always a step ahead of his pursuers.
Bergeron’s IQ progressed to the point where his coaches could use him in any way they pleased. Claude Julien, who preferred his defensemen to stay inside the dots and closer to the net, needed Bergeron to stretch his legs defensively and cover outside ice.
Bruce Cassidy gave his defensemen more room to roam vertically and horizontally. This spared Bergeron some in-zone calories and freed him up for more offensive sorties, often with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak on his flanks. Consequently, his numbers rose — a career-high 79 points in 2018-19 as a 33-year-old — amid his late-stage evolution.
“Instead of skating back 200 feet, now he’s skating back 100 feet and forward 100 feet,” says assistant coach and ex-teammate Chris Kelly. “So he’s still skating 200 feet. But it’s all in the offensive zone. He is a smart hockey player and playing with two world-class players.”
Bergeron’s story, though, expands beyond statistics because of the manner in which he went about his business.
A lot of players have matched or succeeded Bergeron’s accomplishments. Not many have compiled points, collected trophies or lifted the Cup with his degree of professionalism, consistency, competitiveness, grace and care. He has commanded respect within his franchise and around the league because, above all else, he is a good person.
In 2018-19, the Bruins claimed Gemel Smith off waivers. Smith appeared in only three games for the Bruins that season. But Bergeron connected deeply enough with him that the short-term Bruin made a difficult acknowledgment to his ex-teammate: He was struggling with his mental health. Bergeron referred him to Max Offenberger, the team’s longtime sports psychologist.
By 2021-22, Chris Wagner, a Walpole native and lifelong Bruins fan, had made 184 appearances for his hometown team. He had two years left on his contract. But Wagner’s employer informed him he would not be with the team to break camp. The veteran had to endure the sting of an AHL demotion. Throughout his unexpected season in Providence, Wagner received texts from Bergeron. Wagner’s captain had not forgotten him.
These are not tales in isolation. In 2010, Norwood hockey player Matt Brown was paralyzed after fracturing two vertebrae during a game. Bergeron visited Brown at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta during Brown’s initial rehabilitation. They have remained friends. There was Bergeron’s call to Nick Foligno, pitching the ex-Columbus captain on signing with the Bruins. There was Bergeron’s introductory hello to Pavel Zacha following his arrival from the Devils, even while he was without a contract of his own. There was the training camp handshake with Matthew Poitras, a fresh-faced 18-year-old drafted earlier that summer.
“I was a bit starstruck,” Poitras recalls with a smile. “Watching these guys play growing up, you never really think you’ll be in the same dressing room. It’s really cool. It’s crazy. You’re nervous. You’re around NHL guys. It’s the first-time experience of being on the ice with them. Just really cool. It’s great. He came and introduced himself to me. Made me feel a lot more comfortable around the dressing room. He got me in my comfort zone.”
The remarkable thing about all of this was how English might as well have been Mandarin for Bergeron upon his Boston arrival. He was a shy Quebec native more keen to take in his surroundings than express what he was feeling.
That changed rapidly. By 2006-07, before his third NHL season, he was named alternate captain to Zdeno Chara. Bergeron’s mastery of English and outgoing nature made him the perfect complement to the stoic Chara. Together, with reinforcement from leaders like Marchand, Andrew Ference, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask and Mark Recchi, Bergeron and Chara initiated culture change toward commitment, detail and acceptance.
“Bergy really grew over the years,” McQuaid says. “He was always a fantastic guy, player. But he really grew into a leader. He shouldered a lot. But he knew ways of helping guys through things, either on the ice or off the ice, they were struggling with. When I think of culture, I think of caring for your teammates. Knowing them as people. Knowing ways you can help. That can be a lot when you have your own things you need to worry about. He has a young family. But he still is able to find ways to do those things.”
Bergeron knew better than anyone, of course, that one wayward incident nearly left him without all of these experiences.
What could have been
On Oct. 27, 2007, Bergeron went after a puck near the TD Garden end boards. He had no idea what was coming: a Randy Jones cross-check that sent him facefirst into the boards. The force of the blow left Bergeron with a concussion and a broken nose.
In the days to come, Bergeron recovered enough, if you can call it that, to labor through a brief news conference at the Garden while wearing a neck brace. The effort of his words, in English and French, left him exhausted. Neither he nor the franchise knew whether the 22-year-old’s career was over.
Time and treatment helped Bergeron heal to the point where he tried to play in the 2007-08 playoffs. The Bruins’ first-round loss to the Canadiens put an end to that dream.
Yet Bergeron turned the career-threatening injury into an event that pointed him down an alternate path. In the pursuit of self-preservation, Bergeron muted some of the tooth-shaking checks he threw in his earlier days. He placed more emphasis on his hockey sense to optimize his positioning and keep himself out of harm’s way.
The new Bergeron took off. Under Julien’s watch, he grew into a suffocating defensive presence. He helped the Bruins win the Cup in 2011 despite missing two games of the Eastern Conference Final with a concussion. More offensive freedom followed.
Yet it was his presence that might have evolved even more than his game. Bergeron gained a keener appreciation for all of hockey’s bounties, be it the rush of competition or the friendship of his teammates. The next person who shared a dressing room with Bergeron and expresses discontent with his company will be the first.
“He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But anyone that asks about Patrice Bergeron, they’re going to speak as highly about him off the ice as on the ice,” Kelly says. “To me, that’s a great career. When people speak that highly of you off the ice, that means you made an impact. You’re a good person. You cared. You’re a great teammate. He’s fun to be around. He’s not the type of guy where you go to a reunion and you’re like, ‘Oh, there’s Bergy. He was a great player.’ You’re like, ‘Ah, there’s Bergy!’ To me, that’s the ultimate compliment.”
(Photo: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)
Read full post on NHL – The Athletic