Patrice Bergeron Has Always Been the Perfect Fit in Boston
BOSTON – Sixteen years later, the local spots have become life staples. There is the English basement barbershop where the same stylist always cuts his hair. The candlelit Italian trattoria that serves his favorite chicken parmesan. Even strolling through the historic North End, his family’s home for a decade before migrating to the suburbs, continues to infuse Bruins center Patrice Bergeron with a sense of purpose and place. “That’s always going to be special,” he says. “It just feels like a neighborhood. Everybody knows each other.”
Of course, some Boston residents stand out above the rest. When Bergeron initially arrived here, a second-round pick merely hoping to make a solid first impression, he knew almost nothing about the city and even less of its native language. Then he became the Bruins’ backchecking bedrock with a Hall-of-Fame résumé, a four-time Selke Trophy winner and 2011 champion currently three wins away from another Stanley Cup after Monday’s 4-2 win over St. Louis. Asked prior to the series what comes to mind when he hears Bergeron’s name, defenseman Torey Krug paused for a moment before replying, simply, “Perfection.”
Perhaps even more than ageless captain Zdeno Chara, the 33-year-old Bergeron represents the no-frills foundation upon which this current core of the Original Six franchise was built. He is the Bruins’ longest-tenured player dating to his debut training camp in ‘03-04, when the Quebecois teenager rocketed up Boston’s depth chart to earn a roster spot that he never relinquished. “We all thought he was playing on adrenaline, and at some point his game would settle into something that wasn’t as high a quality at that point,” says Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, who was behind the Bruins bench that season. “He got better and better every day.”
Bergeron is no different now. On the power play, for instance, he is among the world’s best triggermen from the so-called “bumper position” in the slot, which demands both quick reflexes for one-timing passes and a high hockey IQ to provide puck support for every teammate in the Bruins’ 1-3-1 setup. In these playoffs, he has scored six times with a man advantage, three shy of the NHL record. And yet, reports defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, “When we’re all skating around aimlessly at the beginning of practice, maybe just talking, he’ll go work in that spot. Every time.”
Martin Lapointe remembers. As a fellow French speaker, the former Bruins winger invited Bergeron to live at his Andover, Mass., house when the latter was a rookie. “If you would’ve told me, back when he first started, that he’d have a career like this, I don't know if I would’ve believed it,” Lapointe says. “But the one thing he had going, he was really mature, really early.” Like how Bergeron would wash the dishes and offer to babysit without being asked. Or how he always stuck around to pick up pucks after practice. “We didn’t have to say much to him to make sure that he was going to be a good pro. He was really focused and very disciplined.”
The dedication manifests in many ways. The most famous example occurred during Boston’s last Stanley Cup final appearance in 2013, when Bergeron tore some rib cartilage in Game 4 and broke a rib in Game 5 before separating his right shoulder and suffering a punctured lung in Game 6 as the Bruins fell to Chicago. Even crazier? “I never got a phone call,” says agent Kent Hughes, who only learned the true extent of his client’s injuries once Bergeron emerged from the home locker room at TD Garden after the Blackhawks clinched and said, far too matter-of-factly for the circumstances, “I’ve got to go to the hospital.”
Here is another: In 2013, Bergeron and Hughes entered contract negotiations with the Bruins for what became an eight-year, max-term extension. At the time Hughes projected that Bergeron could fetch upwards of $9 million on the open market, comparing him to fellow two-way dynamos Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, both of whom had recently re-signed with Anaheim for annual cap hits above $8 million. “And he said, ‘We’ll never win at that number,’” Hughes recalls. “I said, ‘If you take this, you don’t stop other people from taking more, you know that, right?’
“He said, ‘I know. I can’t control that, I can just do my part.’”
The eventual $6.875 million annual salary that Bergeron accepted remains a stunning discount, given that he just registered 75 points over just 65 games in ‘18-19 while earning a seventh straight Selke nomination. It also helped establish an informal, internal cap that only goalie Tuukka Rask ($7 million) and center David Krejci ($7.25 million) have since exceeded, critical to keeping Boston’s core together. “Got to follow in the footsteps of those guys,” says winger Brad Marchand, who inked an eight-year, $49 million deal in Sept. 2016. “If you want to try to make every dollar you can, unfortunately that’s not going to be with this group.”
Though they were held scoreless in Game 1 against the Blues at 5-on-5 and on the power play, Bergeron and Marchand have been lethal alongside Czech sniper David Pastrnak, accounting for 37.7% of Boston’s playoff goal total (23 out of 61) thus far. Recently a website released a series of Bruins-themed T-shirts, including one based around the “best line in hockey,” with each member represented by an emoji. The frisky Marchand, naturally, was a rat. Nodding to his nickname, Pastrnak was a plate of pasta. And Bergeron? One of those heavenly emojis with a halo over its head.
Indeed, there is a special degree of reverence reserved for No. 37. Look no further than the Iowan couple who drew headlines last month for the name of their baby daughter: Bergerine. But the respect is just as strong inside the Bruins locker room. During the lockout-canceled ‘04-05 season, Bergeron was playing for the Providence Bruins when he met an awestruck fan from Weymouth, Mass., named Charlie Coyle. “He was a young guy, but he seemed really old compared to us,” says Coyle, who joined Boston in a trade from Minnesota on Feb. 20 and now centers its third line. “These are the guys we [dreamed] about. We just thought it was so cool.”
The admiration cuts the other way, too. A few days before the Stanley Cup final started, Bergeron was standing in the locker room at the Bruins practice facility overlooking the Mass Pike, reminiscing about his early days as a Bostonian—before the go-to barbershop and chicken parm came on the radar. He had studied a little English back home in Quebec, but otherwise became fluent through total immersion. “I don't know if it’s the best place to learn it, but I learned in the locker room,” Bergeron says. “I was getting by, I guess.”
Then he reaches the larger point. “That’s how guys are here,” he continues. “They don’t think they’ve got everything figured out and they know everything. We always try to learn from different people. Even the young guys.” For example, Bergeron cites Pastrnak’s flare in the offensive zone and defenseman Brandon Carlo’s sturdiness on the other end as sources of inspiration. He also nods toward a nearby scrum of reporters around 22-year-old Jake DeBrusk, the cool-as-the-Charles-River left winger. “Just being even keel, doing his thing,” Bergeron says.
Granted, Bergeron hasn’t quite reached grizzled-vet status yet. Not while he is still capable of infuriating opponents with his timely stick-lifts and hammering one-timers from the slot on a consistent basis. And though Hughes predicts that Bergeron won’t continue playing into his 40s like Chara or former Bruins linemate Mark Recchi, it’s not hard to envision Mr. Perfect 2.0 (all due respect, Nicklas Lidstrom) assuming the C in Boston whenever Big Z retires.
“He doesn’t change the way he plays, no matter what the situation, because he doesn’t need to,” says Recchi, now an assistant coach in Pittsburgh under Sullivan. “He’s my son’s favorite player for that reason. I wish he was younger. I’d let my daughter marry him.”
Alas, Bergeron is already taken. Earlier this season, his wife Stephanie gave birth to their third child, a boy. (In a classic example of Bergeronian humility, he asked fans not to vote him into the 2019 All-Star Game so he could maximize quality time during the break.) The couple also recently built a new house, in which Bergeron designed a basement big enough to accommodate a live-in guest. Once the kids are a little older, he dreams of hosting a young Bruins player like Lapointe did for him, paying it forward helping the new guy learn how to make Boston home.