Now, all these years later, Julien has a front row seat to witness all that Bergeron brings to the Black & Gold, game in and game out.
“As an 18-year-old, I was extremely impressed with his maturity level as a person, but also as a player on the ice. He really impressed me,” said Julien following B’s practice earlier this week at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington.
“To me, at the time, this kid came out of nowhere. He just played one year of junior before he got drafted and made that jump. It was pretty impressive. And having the chance to coach him over the years, you can understand why he was what he was. He’s mature beyond his years.”
Throughout his six years at the helm of the Bruins, Julien has seen firsthand how much Bergeron has grown as a player.
“I think his hockey smarts [have] always been there,” said Julien. “I think the experience has helped him develop into a better player. You become, I guess, a more savvy player, a smarter one, if you want to put it that way; not because you didn’t have it before, but because you’ve been through some experiences and you know better.
“He’s a very quick learner and you don’t have to correct him twice when he makes a mistake.”
Bergeron, who is the defending Selke Award winner as the NHL’s best defensive forward and a finalist for the award this season, has made his greatest strides in the leadership department. No. 37 has gone from a kid out of Quebec City learning English, to the Bruins’ alternate captain and one of the team’s most important players, the 'Mr. Everything.'
“He came in here as an 18-year-old, probably just looking around, trying to feel his way,” Julien said. “He’s not really a real vocal guy, or wasn’t a real vocal guy, just kind of one of those guys that will show his leadership by his actions.
“But he’s developed into a guy now that feels a lot more comfortable, obviously with the language, with the surroundings, the number of years he’s been here. When he needs to speak, he speaks. When he does, guys listen because he’s not one of those guys that will speak every day, but he speaks at the right times.
“That’s how he’s evolved as a leader. He’s got his teammates’ attention when he does decide to speak up.”
And the respect goes both ways.
“He's a guy that's I've learned a lot from,” Bergeron said of Coach Julien. “He gave me a chance to develop as a leader, but also get better as a player. [That is] something I'll always be thankful for.”
As the Bruins prepare for their Eastern Conference Finals match-up with the Pittsburgh Penguins, they know they must be ready to face another great leader: Pens’ captain Sidney Crosby.
Crosby has been teammates with Bergeron on Team Canada over the years, with the pair winning the Gold Medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Crosby knows from experience that playing against Bergeron will be no easy task.
“It's difficult,” said Crosby of matching up against Bergeron’s line. “That's the challenge, the match-ups that you face every series. [We] played against [Ottawa Senators center Kyle] Turris last series, a pretty good player, [New York Islanders center John] Tavares. There's always those [tough] match-ups.”
Bergeron, too, is aware of the troubles that trying to hold arguably the world’s greatest player at bay can cause.
“He's a player that you always need to be aware when he's on the ice and make sure it's not just about one guy, [but] it's about the five guys on the ice [trying] to defend him,” said Bergeron of Crosby.
The Bruins and Penguins have both been without their star centers at times in recent years, with both Bergeron (2007-2009) and Crosby (2011-2012) having missed serious time with career-threatening concussions.
It is during those times, Julien said, that everyone realizes how much a leader like Bergeron, or Crosby, means to their respective teams.
“It’s always one of those situations where we all kind of look around because he’s been, arguably, our most consistent player year after year,” said Julien of Bergeron, who also missed six games this season with a minor concussion.
“I said that many times about him; you know exactly what you’re going to get every game from Patrice. I’m talking about work-ethic and commitment; whether his game is a great game or just a good game, his effort and everything else is always there at 100 percent.
“He doesn’t cheat you as a club and he doesn’t cheat his teammates. He doesn’t cheat anybody. He doesn’t cheat himself. He’s very demanding and that’s what good players are made of.
“He’s one of those that you certainly want to hold on to.”