Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 30: Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins waves to fans before exiting the ice after Florida Panthers defeat the Bruins 4-3 in overtime of Game Seven of the First Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 30, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

There’s something about steady, untiring excellence that has a tendency to fly under the radar.

And for two decades, Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron did everything he could to fly under the radar. Being nicknamed ‘Perfect’ made Bergeron wince and almost always came with a quick headshake and some sort of self-deprecating jab regarding something about him that wasn’t actually perfect. Bergeron was always quick to credit his teammates or someone else for any and every accomplishment. And, man, did he hate when the TD Garden jumbotron would show him on the screen and with some sort of acknowledgement for his latest franchise milestone or record broken.

But for 19 seasons, Bergeron was simply too good to ever fly under the radar.

Bergeron was the example for any and every Bruin. The way he carried himself on and off the ice earned the do-it-all center person countless accolades, and made the Bruins a destination and respected organization throughout the league.

And one thing that always stuck out to me throughout the Bergeron Era was how everybody — even those on the outside, or especially those on the outside — talked about the Bruins. The strength of that locker room, and with it led by Bergeron (and co-captain Zdeno Chara by his side for almost the entire ride) was not lost on anybody. Not a coach, not a player, not an executive. And, again, it was led by Bergeron’s presence in every respect. Following a postseason battle, Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour, who captured the Selke Trophy two times throughout his playing career, made it a point to stop Bergeron in the handshake line and tell him that he’s one of his favorite players in the entire league.

Brind’Amour wasn’t alone.

  • Mar 14, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron (37) warms up before a game against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

    Mar 14, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron (37) warms up before a game against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center. (Jamie Sabau/USA TODAY Sports)

    Brighton’s Warrior Ice Arena is home to more than just the Bruins.

    In fact, it wasn’t all that uncommon to come back from locker room availability and see some sort of youth program out on the ice. The amount of squirts, mites, and pee-wee clubs that sported a No. 37 on their roster certainly exploded as Bergeron and the Bruins did. (Shockingly, I don’t think my generation was all that hot on making sure we had the same number as say an Eric Desjardins or Ollie Kolzig when playing youth hockey.)

    Locally, there’s no way to properly explain how strongly Bergeron and his teammates elevated the B’s franchise out of the basement it found itself in when he was drafted to the club in 2003. What they did in 2011, and what they almost did in 2013 and 2019, brought hockey back to the forefront of the mind in a city where the Bruins were at one point considered the redheaded stepchild. God, the pain of watching the other three teams in town win a championship, sometime multiple titles, before the Bruins earned their parade in 2011 almost killed me, I swear.

    Even in recent years, it’s been downright wild to see the number of players drafted into the NHL talking about how they would like to model their game after Patrice Bergeron.

    It extends beyond just players drafted into the Bruins organization, too.

  • Boston Bruins v New York Rangers

    NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JANUARY 19: Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins celebrates his second period goal against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on January 19, 2023 in New York City. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    Internally, everything you saw from the Bruins this past season was done with Bergeron in mind.

    The commitment and the buy-in was universal.

    That’s not all that uncommon from professionals, sure, but there wasn’t a single passenger in that room.

    Bergeron was why David Krejci came back after spending a year playing for his hometown team in Czechia, and why he was 100 percent telling the complete truth when he admitted that the team’s first-round series loss to the Panthers stung worse than their Cup Final loss in 2019. And Bergeron’s hockey mortality was why Don Sweeney sold the farm — and swallowed a $4.5 million bonus overage for this upcoming season — to add Dmitry Orlov and Tyler Bertuzzi and give the Bruins their best chance yet at capturing one more Stanley Cup for their captain.

    Bergeron simply meant that much to the Bruins.

    And Bergeron’s resume — and history of battling through absolutely everything — was why the Bruins trusted him (perhaps against their better judgment) to be on the ice for the final three games of Boston’s postseason run.

    “That’s part of why everyone has so much respect for him, and everyone loves him so much, is because he’s the most selfless guy to ever walk through this room and everything he does is for the betterment of the group,” Brad Marchand, who has skated to Bergeron’s left for over a decade, said. “He sacrifices so much of his body and years of his life to help other guys achieve success, and try to build something special here.

    “He’s the kind of leader that is born, you can’t teach it. Once in a generation, the best leader in the NHL by far. To have a guy like that, and watch him continually play through the pain where most people can’t function — it’s pretty impressive. And guys rally behind that, so, it’s tough to see him struggle through it, but again, it’s another reason why he’s a legend.”

  • Patrice Bergeron during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the TD Garden on June 5, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS: Bruins center Patrice Bergeron during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the TD Garden on June 5, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Mandatory credit: Getty Images)

    Bergeron’s willingness to play through anything was also why I said again and again and again that I didn’t think this summer would end with Bergeron deciding to walk away from the Bruins and the game of hockey.

    He’s still too good and there’s still a lot of good hockey left under those blades. Let’s not forget that 2022-23 was arguably Bergeron’s healthiest season in years up until Game 82. And even so, Bergeron added that he wouldn’t need any sort of offseason procedure to fix the herniated disc that derailed his postseason, and the latest update from Bruins general manager Don Sweeney indicated that Bergeron did not have any health issues entering 2023-24.

    It’s no secret that players talk to other players when it comes to their futures and when they know that it’s time to call it a career. Chara talked with Mark Recchi and Jaromir Jagr when he first thought of hanging ’em up. If Bergeron called any of these guys, their first reaction probably would’ve been, “Are you freakin’ kidding me?” The tank was not on empty, nor did it appear to be approaching empty, like it did with those players when they walked away.

    But as Bergeron said in his retirement statement, this is about going out on his own terms.

  • Bruins center Patrice Bergeron during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the TD Garden on June 5, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS: Bruins center Patrice Bergeron during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the TD Garden on June 5, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Mandatory credit: Getty Images)

    Everybody in Boston, of course, wishes those terms included another Stanley Cup on Bergeron’s resume.

    After winning it all in 2011 (and scoring the game-winning goal and the backbreaking shorthanded goal to help put the Canucks away in Game 7 in Vancouver), Bergeron helped the Bruins get there in both 2013 and 2019.

    His 2013 run was really what cemented himself as a legend in Boston, too. The heart of a team powered by the emotion of being the first playoff team in the post-Marathon Bombing era of life in Boston, Bergeron scored the game-tying and game-winning goal in Boston’s first-round Game 7 comeback win over the Maple Leafs, later won a four-game war over an in-their-primes Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for the Prince of Wales crown, and played through injuries that left even his own teammates stunned in the team’s 2013 Stanley Cup Final loss to Chicago.

    Bergeron’s resume — on the ice, on the bench, and even in the operating room almost every single offseason in pursuit of a championship — was certainly worthy of another title to his name.

  • Feb 28, 2023; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron (37) skates during the warmup period against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

    Feb 28, 2023; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron (37) skates during the warmup period against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome. (Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports)

    But the greatest impact one can make is leaving a place better than you found it.

    Bergeron undoubtedly did that throughout his Boston run.

    On the ice, the Bruins made the playoffs in all but four of Bergeron’s 19 years with the franchise, and won at least one round in nine of those runs. Off the ice, the Bruins built a culture that players want to be part of (Taylor Hall, Hampus Lindholm, and Pavel Zacha all wanted to come to Boston from their respective teams at the time of their trades), and it’s a culture that teams around the league would like to emulate. One of my favorite, perhaps under-the-radar stories will always be how Bergeron reached out to Gemel Smith, a player struggling with some mental-health issues, even after the Bruins had waived him down to Providence.

    In the community, Bergeron was an outspoken ally for countless causes, and his ‘Patrice’s Pals’ charitable endeavor made countless memories and provided invaluable support for so many who needed it at that time in their life.

    Bergeron’s teammates are better teammates for sharing a locker room with Bergeron, even if it was for just one season or one month. Hockey fans in Boston are smarter fans for having the privilege of watching Bergeron for almost two decades. Three-zone dominance like the kind Bergeron displayed is a once-in-a-lifetime viewing experience. People like myself are smarter (I know, even I can’t believe it) for having the ability to pick the brain of one of the smartest and most cerebral players of his era.

    And Bergeron’s impact on hockey in this market is just beginning, really, and it goes beyond the Bruins.

    In fact, his imprint on this market and this game will only become more noticeable as those No. 37 sweaters graduate to higher levels of hockey and become more and more commonplace with players trying to play with the same under-the-radar excellence Bergeron displayed for 20 years.

    Just don’t expect Bergeron to be willing to take any credit for it.

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