BRIGHTON, Mass. -- There are plenty of things that spring to mind with Patrice Bergeron set to play the 1,000th game of his NHL career on Tuesday night against the New York Islanders.
The 1,000-game club is a select one, and it’s incredibly exclusive when it comes to the Bruins. Only Ray Bourque, John Bucyk, Don Sweeney and Wayne Cashman have played in that many games for Boston.
The first memories of Bergeron are of a shy 18-year-old kid from Quebec with a face full of peach fuzz and a real lack of confidence when it came to command of the English language.
In those moments Bergeron never dreamed he’d play 1,000 games in the NHL, let alone play them all in the very same city of Boston.
“I think all the friendships and the memories that I’ve gathered over the years are the biggest thing to me,” said Bergeron. “It’s been a fun ride so far, and it’s been special along the way. You kind of go through your career [when talking about 1,000 games] and I’ve never really taken the time to do that except for lately. So you think about the players and guys that have made an impact on your career, and the friendships I’ve had and made.
“There are some things that I’m proud of along the way, obviously, but my best memories are what we’ve accomplished as a team, and the friends that I’ve made. It’s honestly what I’m most proud of: The winning feeling and the friends have been special. And playing 1,000 games for the same organization is something I’m very proud of and something I think is special.”
He was the youngest player in the NHL that rookie season of 2003-04, a second-round pick who surprisingly made a roster filled with grizzled veterans like Joe Thornton, Glenn Murray, Marty Lapointe, Hal Gill and Brian Rolston. But there was also a prideful grin that came across then-coach Mike Sullivan’s face each time he was asked about the youngster, who finished with 16 goals and 39 points that year. Even then Sullivan knew there was something special about No. 37.
There were fears his career would come to a premature conclusion when he suffered a horrific concussion in 2007. The Flyers' Randy Jones slammed Bergeron from behind into the boards on Oct. 27, the 10th game of the year, and the injury kept the then-22-year-old out of the lineup for the rest of that season.
But obviously he came back healthy and strong enough to become the best two-way center of his generation. The career offensive numbers are starting to stack up, with 305 goals and 778 points heading into tonight's game against the Islanders, and defensively the four Selke Trophies he's earned as the league's best defensive forward speak for themselves. What's more, Bergeron -- remarkably -- hasn’t slowed down much at age 33.
It wouldn’t be called overstatement to call him the ultimate winner, having captured a Stanley Cup, Olympic gold medal and a World Cup championship during his brilliant career, but it’s always been done the right way. That’s something that’s always spoken of Bergeron both as a player and as a person, and it’s something former teammate and Hall of Famer Mark Recchi always impresses upon people when he talks about his former center on the 2011 Cup team.
“To me it was always about how he never changed,” Recchi told NBCSportsBoston.com. “He came to work every day and he was happy to do it. He was always positive. You come to the rink every day and play the same way. You come to the rink and practice the same way every day. He tried to get better and play the games the exact way. He is the epitome of a consistent player. It was incredible that he always played the game the right way. I’ve never seen him cheat [on a play]. He’s a coach’s dream, he’s a linemate’s dream and he’s a teammate’s dream. I just love watching him play.
“It’s like ‘Man, he’s in the right spot again!’ He’s never out of position and to me that’s what I really enjoyed when I played with him every shift. Now my oldest son watches him and it’s his favorite player because of the way that he plays. And he’s also probably the nicest person I’ve ever met. He’s somebody you want to be around, and you want to surround yourself with people like that.”
Perhaps for those reasons, it’s appropriate Bergeron plays his 1,000th game on the same day the New England Patriots held a rolling rally through the streets of Boston to celebrate their latest Super Bowl title. The Pats will overshadow Bergeron’s special day, but it might also make it a little more comfortable for a team-oriented player who's always been a little uncomfortable talking about his own achievements.
“That’s what makes him so incredibly special," said Recchi. "He’s so humble. He’s an incredible teammate, an incredible person, and he always deflects the attention off himself. But this is well-earned. Getting to 1,000 games is awesome, particularly all in the same uniform. I’m sure he’ll enjoy it tonight, but he’ll be thinking about winning the game more than anything, and playing the game the way he plays every night.
“He’s such a special guy. It was such a great honor for me to play with him. Those guys kept me young. It was awesome. The enthusiasm for the game and the work ethic toward the game made it so fun to be around him. Obviously he’s got a lot left in him, but it’s a great recognition for playing in a lot of hockey games.”
Beyond the obvious skill, the natural leadership, the undeniable intelligence and the hyper-competitiveness, there was also the toughness that came through at every turn for the perfect player. He returned from that concussion in the 2007-08 season and battled through a couple more along the way, and he memorably played Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final with a punctured lung.
But the one lasting memory this humble hockey writer will have?
It’s Bergeron totally and completely exhausted and unable to stand up, but still doing a radio interview in the hallway outside the Bruins visiting locker room after winning Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in Vancouver. He'd given everything he had that night to help ensure the Black and Gold captured the Cup for the first time in nearly 40 years . . . and, even though the stakes are usually much lower, he’s done the same thing 999 other times in his career.
Someday, years from now when Bergeron is retired and his No. 37 in the rafters and his name enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame, the 1,000-games-played milestone will be seen as just another accomplishment in a brilliant career. Tonight, though, it's a chance to celebrate a player who -- like David Ortiz and Tom Brady and Paul Pierce -- is, despite how embarrassed he may be by the comparision, an iconic figure in Boston's golden age of sports.
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