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Patrice Bergeron: An Appreciation

Former teammates reflect on center's accomplishments as he hits 1,000-game mark

by Eric Russo @NHLBruins / BostonBruins.com

BostonBruins.com - Sidney Crosby was just a 17-year-old, still months away from being drafted first overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins. As perhaps the world's most sought after prospect, the Nova Scotia native had plenty of questions about life in the National Hockey League.

Fortunately for Crosby, the 2005 IIHF World Junior Championship provided him the perfect opportunity - and person - to get some answers.

Nineteen-year-old Patrice Bergeron arrived at the tournament with 71 games of NHL experience under his belt, so when Team Canada made the duo roommates for the event in Minnesota and North Dakota, Crosby had someone to lean on.

"I think I asked him about a hundred questions and he answered them all with me and put up with me for a few weeks at the World Juniors," said Crosby, now the league's most accomplished and recognizable player. "Just an amazing teammate. That's just the kind of guy he is. He's always there. Just a great leader."

When it comes to Bergeron, those types of stories are endless. And as he approaches his 1,000th NHL game - all with the Bruins, which will make him just the fifth player in franchise history to accomplish that feat - it is clear that leadership and commitment have been the hallmarks of what has already been a storied NHL career.

"What makes him a special player on and off the ice is that he's someone who comes in every day with the right attitude," said Crosby, who has been Bergeron's teammate with Canada several times since that first meeting, including two Olympic gold medal runs in 2010 and 2014.

"He's a great teammate, willing to do whatever it takes and be a good teammate and be there for guys. Just a great example on and off the ice for everybody."

That was never more apparent than in Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks. With the Bruins trailing the series, 3-2, Bergeron was not interested in watching the game from Level 9 of TD Garden.

It was a decision that ultimately forced him to spend three days in the hospital, but one that has come to define Bergeron's toughness.

Bergeron played the game with torn rib cartilage (suffered in Game 4 of that series) and a broken rib (suffered in Game 5). The list of ailments grew when he suffered a separated shoulder and punctured lung in Game 6, during which he still managed to land two hits and win 45 percent of his faceoffs in 17 minutes, 45 seconds of ice time.

"He gave it everything he had until the last buzzer and ended up in the hospital after that," said Shawn Thornton, who was teammates with Bergeron in Boston from 2007-14. "People talk about dedication in hockey. I'm not sure anyone's ever been more dedicated than him in that series, in that moment. People talked about me being tough, but I wouldn't have had the toughness to muscle through the pain he was probably going through…he's a warrior."

Following the game, which the Bruins lost in stunning fashion, their Cup dreams coming to a crashing halt, Bergeron still met with the media before going to the hospital.

"One of the best things about Bergy is his willingness to compete and his willingness to play…he had a punctured lung and a separated shoulder and was still out there and arguably our best player," said Chris Kelly, Bergeron's teammate in Boston from 2011-16 and one of his fellow alternate captains.

"That was just his character. He was such an easy guy to follow. And what a leader he was and continues to be. I know the guys that have continued to play with him are better off for it."

At that time, Bergeron was already one of the league's top two-way forwards, not to mention a Stanley Cup champion, having helped lead the Bruins to a title in 2011, the organization's first in 39 years.

During that championship run, Bergeron ranked third in playoff scoring with 20 points, trailing on David Krejci (23) and Vancouver's Henrik Sedin (22). The centerman also tallied two goals in the Black & Gold's 4-0 Cup-clinching win over the Canucks in Game 7.

It was a spring that truly helped the Quebec native emerge as one of Boston's most beloved and respected athletes.

"The consummate, ultimate professional, on and off the ice," said Thornton, now a senior vice president with the Florida Panthers. "I don't think he's ever done anything wrong, ever, his whole life, since birth. He just seems to do everything the right way."

The awards he's received and statistics he's produced back that up. Bergeron is one of 28 players in history to join the Triple Gold Club, the exclusive group that has won an Olympic gold medal, a World Championship gold medal, and the Stanley Cup. The 33-year-old has also captured gold at the 2005 World Junior Championship - when he was the tournament's leading scorer and MVP - and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Bergeron, who four times reached the 30-goal plateau, has twice been named an NHL All-Star and has won a four Frank J. Selke Trophies as the NHL's best defensive forward, tied with Bob Gainey for the most in league history.

"Best two-way player I've ever coached," said Claude Julien, the Bruins head coach from 2007-16. "Patrice is such a special individual - not only a good player where everybody gets to see him demonstrate his skill and his desire on the ice, but also a great person off the ice. I know he's a great family man.

"He's also a great leader inside that dressing room and continues to be that. The Boston Bruins are fortunate to have [him] as one of those guys because those guys are hard to find."

As Crosby can attest, Bergeron's unique leadership abilities and pure hockey talent were evident from the very beginning of his professional career. Drafted by the Bruins with the 45th overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Bergeron made the big club out of training camp and tallied 39 points (16 goals, 23 assists).

"I remember in [2003-04], there was this baby-faced French kid that was in training camp and everyone was talking about him that he's a pretty good player," said Glen Murray, who played with Bergeron in Boston from 2003-08. "I was fortunate to be on [his] line that first training camp…couldn't speak very much English, but understood the game and I could tell right away that [he was] gonna be a great player."

Murray was certainly right in his assessments. And many would argue that Bergeron continues to improve and evolve with age.

For the better part of the last two seasons, Bergeron has centered has been arguably the NHL's best line, alongside David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, his left winger since the championship run in 2011.

Now in his 15th season with the Bruins, Bergeron stamp on the organization's history books also continues to grow. He ranks in the top 10 in games played, goals, assists, and points - among several others - and doesn't appear to be slowing down any time soon.

But Bergeron's most significant contributions may not be his elite faceoff abilities, relentless backchecking, lighting-quick release from the bumper, or his countless accolades.

His biggest impact may very well be the way in which he has influenced the careers of so many of his teammates throughout the years.

"I was the 31-year-old Stanley Cup champion and I was learning from him every single day because at 21 he was more mature and put together than I was," said Thornton. "I can't say enough about him, just the way he carries himself, the way he loves the game and loves his family. There's a lot of special characteristics about Patrice Bergeron."

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