Now that it’s all over, Patrice Bergeron will let on that last season was more than a little bit of a character-testing slog for the always dependable center.
The 32-year-old Bergeron battled ankle and sports hernia woes for the entirety of last season and, partially because of that, endured an uncharacteristically sluggish start to his season. Boston’s franchise player bounced back in the second half of the year to be closer to his normal, fully healthy self, but came up noticeably short of his usual full season numbers with 21 goals, 53 points and a plus-12 in 79 gritty games played. Bergeron was ultimately rewarded for gutting it out with a B’s playoff berth for the first time in three seasons, and then later recognized with an NHL record-tying fourth Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward.
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So it was all worth it in the end, and now he’s approaching his normal levels after offseason surgery to repair the sports hernia.
Bergeron is taking it easy in captain’s practices while continuing rehab for last spring’s surgery, but all systems are go for him to be ready at the start of the regular season. Better than that, Bergeron is enthusiastic about this season’s prospects knowing he won’t have the mentally taxing burden of an injury weighing him down through the entire year.
As Bergeron tells it, the annoyingly nagging injury played into his slow first half before he adjusted to a reduced skating burst as a result of the sports hernia. It was noticeable at times that Bergeron simply couldn’t explode past opponents as he’d routinely done in the past, and he struggled to get to the right spots in the offensive zone in time to make a play.
“It’s mostly just not having any pain, and being able to skate and have a full stride. It’s not having to think about it, and not having to need the muscle to warm up for 15 or 20 minutes before I was ready,” said Bergeron, who managed just 11 goals and 24 points in his first 49 games before finishing strong with nine goals and 28 points in 29 games following NHL All-Star weekend. “It was mostly pain, so [being healthy] is definitely going to help my skating. The one thing that was difficult was that you knew it was always there, and it was annoying. It was one of those things where you have to battle through it and then the next day you knew it was still going to be there.
“It was hard that way and it was in my head a little bit. Once I got past that hurdle of realizing it was going to be there, and not worrying about it, I felt better. It’s not an excuse for the slow start I had and not scoring on some easy chances, but it was slowing me down a bit. It was definitely annoying. Once I passed the hurdle of knowing that my skating was going to be restricted, I felt better confidence-wise and whatnot. I stopped second-guessing everything that I was doing on the ice.”
It’s clearly good news that Bergeron enters the season with a clean bill of health and without a World Cup of Hockey interrupting his normal preparation for the season. That should help push him back upward toward the player that averaged 28 goals and 62 points over the previous three seasons while forming one of the NHL’s most dangerous tandems with Brad Marchand. That’s absolutely what No. 37 is aiming for as the best all-around player on Boston’s roster, and one of the heart-and-soul leaders of a B’s hockey club again pointed upward.
“I’m still doing some rehab, but I’ll be ready for camp. There may be some restrictions there [in camp], but I feel good on the ice and good in the gym,” said Bergeron. “Hopefully I’m going to have a better start, and just get back to playing a better game two-ways. You always want to push your limits and be better. I guess that’s always my approach.”
It should also be expected that Bergeron – at 32 years old with 899 regular season games on his career resume – is going to begin dealing with more of the nagging injuries moving forward in his NHL career. Bergeron will play through it all, of course.
That’s what he does and he proved just how extreme that renowned toughness can be when he played through a punctured lung during the 2013 Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks. Nobody is looking for a repeat of that ever again, but it will be nice for Bruins fans to see Bergeron back to full strength mentally and physically when the puck drops a month from now.