This Thanksgiving, the best story in Boston tells of hard work, perseverance, humility and courage. Patrice Bergeron is still just 24 years old, but he already seems to possess the experience and wisdom of a man twice his age.
"It’s behind me now and I can look forward," Bergeron said yesterday by phone as the Bruins prepared for tonight’s game at Minnesota. "It’s been two long years and I’ve learned a lot. I guess everything happens for a reason."
Everything happens for a reason. But does it really? Or do things sometimes happen purely as matter of chance, of luck both good and bad? Entering the 2007-08 NHL season, Bergeron was coming off a stretch of three seasons during which he had averaged 25 goals and 68 points. He was still just 22. None of that was luck so much as it was a testament to Bergeron’s talent and commitment to hockey, the assets that inspired the Bruins to select him with the 45th overall pick of the 2003 NHL draft and to give him with a five-year, $23.75 million contract prior to the start of the 2006-07 season.
Bergeron earned those things. He deserved them. By all accounts, he was (and is) a quiet, humble, likeable and extremely well-mannered young man dedicated to both improving and to playing at both ends of the ice. In some ways, he was many of things the Bruins never deemed Phil Kessel to be.
What happened next might have been considered an athletic tragedy were it not for what is happening now -- precisely 23 games into the most highly-anticipated Boston hockey season in years, Bergeron has been what Bruins officials are describing as the most "consistent" player on the team this year, which is another way of saying he has been their best. Bergeron (18 points) leads the Bruins in scoring. He leads them in goals (seven) and is second to only Zdeno Chara in assists (11). He has played on the power play and on the penalty kill, and he has twice scored the deciding goal in a shootout. He has done everything anyone could reasonably ask of any hockey player, particularly one who is now 25 months removed from a frightening incident that quite literally shook his world.
We all know the story. Two seasons ago, in an Oct. 27 game between the Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers, opposing defenseman Randy Jones hit Bergeron from behind in a corner of the rink at the TD Garden. Bergeron’s head slammed violently into the boards, resulting in a broken nose and severe concussion that kept him out for the balance of the year. He returned last season and suffered another concussion in December, this one less severe, ultimately finishing with extremely modest totals (eight goals, 31 assists, 39 points in 64 games) that led to obvious questions.
Would he ever be the same player again? Had nothing more than bad luck derailed what was to be a successful NHL career? Was Bergeron destined to be that saddest of all things, another unfortunate tale of what might have been?
"I knew I needed time to adjust and get my rhythm back," Bergeron said yesterday, just hours after assisting on all four goals in the Bruins’ 4-2 win over the St. Louis Blues. "But you always think you’re going to come right back and play the way you did before."
He did not.
Given the events of the early season, Bergeron’s play has been an absolute blessing for a Bruins team beset by both circumstance and complacency. Despite last spring’s disappointing exit in the second round of the playoffs, the Bruins entered this year as indisputable contenders for their first Stanley Cup in 38 years. Just before the start of the season, they traded away the enigmatic Kessel. When Marc Savard and Milan Lucic subsequently suffered early-season injuries, the Bruins effectively had their entire first line erased from a season that produced the best regular season record in the Eastern Conference last year.
Along the way, David Krejci struggled after returning from hip surgery. Chara got off to a slow start. The Bruins looked so utterly lackluster in a 4-1 home loss to the New York Islanders last week that coach Claude Julien all but a blew a gasket, finally deflecting persistent questions about his team’s comatose play to the underachieving players in the team’s locker room.
Through it all, Bergeron has persisted, turning in routinely solid two-way play on a night-to-night basis. With regard to his health, he emphasized that "all the symptoms have been gone since I came back from that second concussion." Possessors of a three-game winning streak for the first time this season, the Bruins will seek a fourth straight win tonight against a Minnesota team that thus far has been one of the worst in the league, though the Wild is 6-3-2 at home.
At this stage, the Bruins might take particular note of their young center, who has taught them, if little else, to take nothing for granted.
"My family, we’re hard workers," Bergeron, a native of Quebec, said almost reluctantly. "I’ve been taught to work hard and never give up on anything."
Especially, it seems, himself.
And luck has absolutely nothing to do with that.
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