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Bergeron quietly approaches 1,000th NHL game with Bruins

Veteran center lauded by Boston legends

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

BOSTON -- He was quiet that first season, his English nonexistent, his age a barrier, his game understated. And though Patrice Bergeron has come a long way since that rookie season as an 18-year-old in 2003-04 - - 999 NHL games, to be exact - - there are elements of that quiet that are still evident.

His English has become fluent and his status has changed to that of a veteran, but the quiet efficiency of the way he plays hockey remains. It's one of the first things that Wayne Cashman noticed about Bergeron back then, as an assistant coach with the Boston Bruins when Bergeron was selected in the second round (No. 45) of the 2003 NHL Draft. It's something he still sees now, as Bergeron stands on the brink of joining a very small and exclusive fraternity. 

Only four players - - Cashman, Johnny Bucyk, Ray Bourque, and Don Sweeney - - have played 1,000 games for the Bruins, with Bergeron set to add his name to the list on Tuesday when the Bruins take on the New York Islanders at TD Garden (7 p.m. ET; NESN, MSG+ 2, NHL.TV). 

"We knew he'd be a good player," Bucyk said. "We didn't know how great."

 

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There are Bruins legends that abound - - Bourque and Bucyk, Bobby Orr and Cam Neely, Milt Schmidt and Eddie Shore - - and while it's always easier to grant legendary status to a player once a career has been concluded, it's clear that Bergeron will join those names, in legacy, in a place in the TD Garden rafters, and likely some of them in the Hockey Hall of Fame. 

"Quietly it will be," Cashman said, of Bergeron's status reaching theirs. "Quietly. Everybody that knows the game of hockey will be saying that."

Bourque is the all-time leader in games played for the Bruins, with 1,518, followed by Bucyk (1,436), Sweeney (1,052), and Cashman (1,027). Bourque famously ended his career with the Colorado Avalanche, Sweeney finished up with the Dallas Stars, and Bucyk started with the Detroit Red Wings. Zdeno Chara, who has 926 games played with the Bruins and is on pace to reach 1,000 in 2019-20 if the Bruins re-sign him for another season, played more than 500 games with the Islanders and Ottawa Senators before arriving in Boston.

Video: Looking at Bergeron's two-goal performance

But it seems likely that Bergeron - - like Cashman - - will don only one sweater: that of the Bruins.

"It's special," Cashman said. "Now with the salaries and the way players move around, it doesn't happen very often. So, when you look back on it, the amount of players that have done it, it was special [for me], yes. One organization, won some Cups with them. I guess you would have to call that a pretty satisfying career."

Like Bergeron's.

The 33-year-old center has played in the Stanley Cup Final twice with the Bruins, winning the Cup against the Vancouver Canucks in 2011. He has won four Selke Trophies, tied with Bob Gainey for the most all time. He has been an all-star, won two gold medals in the Olympics with Canada (2010 in Vancouver, 2014 in Sochi), and captured gold in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. 

Now he will add the 1,000-game milestone to that list of achievements.

"If you think of 1,000 games, I think you can guarantee that there wasn't one minute of that 1,000 games that Bergy didn't give his best," Cashman said. "That's the type of person he is."

But what does the mark actually mean? 

There are 58 players in the history of the NHL who have played at least 1,000 games with one franchise, from Claude Provost (1,005 with the Montreal Canadiens) to Gordie Howe (1,687 with the Red Wings), 28 of them in the Hall of Fame, others like Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Jarome Iginla and Alex Ovechkin headed there one day. 

For Bucyk, it meant a $1,000 bill. It was in the 1971-1972 season when he reached the milestone and Weston Adams, the team's former owner and president and then-chairman of the board, handed him the bill.

"I'd never ever seen one in my life," Bucyk said. "It was a great experience. I was so proud, just to play, to be part of the team, and to play a 1,000th game in the NHL was a big thing."

Video: MIN@BOS: Bergeron scores PPG off his skate

For Sweeney, now the Bruins general manager, it came against the Islanders, the same team that Bergeron will face in his 1,000th. He knows what it will mean not only to Bergeron, but to the Bruins as a franchise. 

"For Bergy, it should be special for him, special for the organization, realizing the group of players, the impact he's had on this organization from day one," Sweeney said. 'It's pretty damn impressive and he'll be in the rafters when all is said and done, Hall of Fame, on and off the ice."

Sweeney, who returned to the Bruins in 2006 as the team's director of player development, has seen almost all of Bergeron's career up close. He has seen what it has meant to building a team around him, has seen his impact on those touched by him, from young players to veterans to fans. 

"He epitomizes what a Boston Bruin is and what a player should aspire to be," Sweeney said. "Obviously the game has evolved and changed over time and he's a player that I think anybody that has played for a long period of time would say could play in any era and excel in any era, and that probably is the highest form of a compliment. 

"To be a Hall of Fame player, I think you generally have to have that type of ability and then back it up off the ice and be part of the fabric of the community and really an icon in this city in an unassuming and empathetic way. It's really impressive for him to do it with humility, and he has. It certainly reminds me a lot of Raymond."

Bourque, of course, was so beloved that even after he requested a trade to a team that could get him a Stanley Cup, even after he won that Cup, he could return to Boston and draw more than 15,000 people to a rally at City Hall Plaza in Boston to celebrate that Cup win. 

But it was more than that.

"He's a lot like Ray in this regard, not just because there was an original language barrier, but he's emerged as this leader and a vocal conscience for his teammates," Sweeney said of Bergeron and Bourque. "He's shared all of himself and I do believe that the greatest players, in order to leave a legacy, they prepare for their own elite performances, but they have the ability to elevate others because they're giving of themselves."

For all four of the 1,000-game players, that mark meant a deep relationship with the city, the fanbase, the franchise. It meant being a part of the fabric of the team for 15 years (Sweeney), 17 years (Cashman), 21 years (Bourque and Bucyk). 

For Bergeron, it has been 15 seasons of hockey in Boston - and he could have reached the milestone sooner had he not lost the 2004-05 to the lockout and all but 10 games of 2007-08 to a concussion that nearly ended his career almost before it had begun.

It has been 15 seasons of success. Fifteen seasons of brilliance.

"I could say it means you're pretty good," Bucyk said. "But it's another highlight. It's a good highlight and it shows that you are an NHL player and that you survived. I think Patrice Bergeron is such a perfect example. 

"He's a two-way hockey player. He's a class player. I can't say enough good about him - you can't say anything bad about him. He plays hurt. He does everything he's supposed to do, and he's good at everything he does. It's a big honor." 

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