Needless to say, Patrice Bergeron is a pretty big deal, even -- or perhaps especially -- in Montreal.
“Back home, everyone is all about [the Canadiens], obviously,” said teammate Jordan Caron, who has served as Bergeron’s longtime offseason training partner in their native Quebec City. “We work out outside, and there’s always a bunch of kids that look up to him, and everyone knows who Patrice Bergeron is in Quebec City.
“It’s awesome to see that. And he always takes time to say hi to those kids and takes pictures with them, so it’s awesome.”
Bergeron may suit up for the Canadiens’ most bitter rival, but in his hometown, that is irrelevant. In fact, across the league, Bergeron’s allegiance doesn’t matter. He may be the opponent on any given night, but he’s never the enemy. He can’t be. He’s Patrice Bergeron.
“He’s known in this dressing room as the ultimate professional — in pretty much every aspect, you know?” said linemate Reilly Smith. “If it’s at the rink, if it’s with the media, if it’s doing events — he’s always very professional, and he’s a really good role model, especially. So that was something that when I started playing here, he was one person I always looked up to and tried to [model] my game after.
“He’s a great leader for this team, and he’s definitely one of the building blocks to why they’ve been so successful.”
Smith’s first full season in the NHL coincided with his first full season in Black & Gold. He came to Boston via trade in the summer of 2013, he earned the one available roster spot during training camp, and a couple of months later, he solidified himself as Bergeron’s right wing.
It proved to be the perfect spot for Smith — not only because of what he brought to what would prove to be one of Boston’s most explosive lines in 2013-14, but because of what he, as one of Boston’s youngest up-and-coming players, was able to learn from Bergeron.
To put it simply, there was no one better to have as his linemate when he was learning the ropes in the NHL.
“He does so many little things well, and I think that’s something that goes unnoticed, for sure — things that I didn’t even recognize until I started playing here,” Smith said. “He’s so responsible in his own end, and a lot of centers aren’t — they’ll be the first people ready to blow the zone and look for offensive opportunities, but he’s always the last person out of the defensive zone and is somehow the first person into the offensive zone, too.
“He’s all over the ice, and there’s not too many centers in the league that are like him.”
This weekend, Bergeron will be rewarded for his efforts with his first career appearance in the league’s All-Star Game — though of course, in Boston, Bergeron has long been heralded as an All-Star.
“I don't think he's ever changed,” said Claude Julien, who has coached Bergeron since 2007. “He's the guy who comes in every game [as] a reliable player. A coach knows exactly what he's going to get from that player, as far as work ethic is concerned, and then yeah, he's a calming influence.
“But he's also a guy who has the ability to raise his voice when he needs to, and when he does, I think he gets the team's attention. So he's got a lot of good qualities there that we really admire in the dressing room and on the ice.”
Though Bergeron’s reputation has been solidified for years in Boston, it’s nice to be recognized by the league, too.
“It’s always an honor,” Bergeron said. “It's going to be a first for me, so it's going to be a new experience — something I'll be able to say that I've been there.
“I would keep playing the same style and the same game I'm playing right now, being recognized or not, so that's definitely not going to change. But that being said, it is nice to be recognized and being able to experience events like the All-Star Game.”
True to form, he was quick to add that the nod wouldn’t have come without the help of his Black & Gold comrades.
“All of these things always happen because of the help of your linemates and teammates,” he said. “It’s one of those things that I always feel always lucky to be part of a group like that, and to be able to be picked and experience events like the All-Star Game.”
Bergeron, seemingly, has done everything during his 10-plus years in Black & Gold. He has triumphed over enormous adversity — most notably, a 2007 concussion that threatened to derail his career. He has established himself as one of the Boston sports universe’s most recognizable and most worthy role models, and he has an A on his sweater to show for it. He has developed into one of the league’s most potent two-way players, as evidenced by his two Selke trophies, the most recent of which he earned last year.
He has earned two Olympic gold medals as a member of Team Canada. He played through torn rib cartilage, a broken rib, a separated shoulder and a punctured lung in June 2013, all in the name of fighting to claim another championship for the Black & Gold. The B’s didn’t win it all that time, but of course, in 2011, Bergeron achieved hockey’s Holy Grail, raising the Stanley Cup for the first time in his career.
It may come as a surprise, then, to learn that it took him 10 years to earn a spot in the All-Star Game.
“I saw that — I was shocked,” Smith said. “I was just reading some article, and it said it was his first time being an All Star, and that honestly jumped off the page for me because all the seasons he’s had — it doesn’t really make too much sense why it’s taken this long.”
Bergeron’s style of play may not always garner the most attention or the most accolades, but one thing is for sure: He may be subtle, but he is one of the most difficult forwards in the league for opponents to play against. Though there may not be any awards for that feat, other players certainly take notice — even players on his own team.
“I’m lucky to have Bergy on my side,” said fellow Bruins center David Krejci.
These days, the Bergeron-Krejci duo ranks as one of the league’s most formidable center tandems. But back when Krejci was getting his first taste of the NHL in 2006-07, he, like Smith, looked to Bergeron as the prototype for what it takes to be successful as a Bruin.
“When I first started, we had some good leaders — Bergy was already in his third or fourth year,” Krejci said. “When you see how much ice time he gets from the coach, and the trust, you want to be that player as well. You want to be trusted in those situations.
“That’s why you have to do those things — backcheck, blocking shots, whatever it takes. I had the good example from Bergy.”
The Bruins have been to the postseason in each of the last seven years. They have advanced to the Stanley Cup twice and they have won it all once. There are myriad reasons for their success — but undoubtedly, near the top of everyone’s list of reasons is the No. 37.
“He’s such a good guy,” Caron said. “I think obviously everyone likes him, and everyone looks up to him as a really good leader on our team. Off the ice, he’s such a humble guy. He’s won pretty much everything, and he’s still the same guy that [he] probably [was] when he was 15.
“He hasn’t changed, and he’s just a good person — that’s what makes him so special.”
Bergeron isn’t flashy. He doesn’t require acclaim or a badge of honor. He is understated, and he is committed to doing the little things right in order for the group to thrive. He, over the last 10 years, has developed into the embodiment of what it means to be a Bruin, and that fact has never been lost on anyone who has played with him in Boston — even though it may have taken him longer than expected to earn a spot in the league’s star-studded All-Star Game.
“It’s funny because it’s like — he’s such a consistent human being,” Smith said with a laugh. “It’s just how he always is. He doesn’t change too much. It’s stuff like that that you pick up and you try to model your game after, and just who you are, too, because he does such a good job of preparing himself. His image is impeccable, so he’s a great face for this organization, for sure.
“It’s Bergy being Bergy.”