BRIGHTON, Mass. — There are humble beginnings for every hockey player and it was no different for Bruins center Patrice Bergeron.
Bergeron was named a Selke Trophy finalist this week for an NHL-record ninth consecutive season and is vying for an NHL-record fifth Selke Trophy amidst some pretty stiff competition from Flyers forward Sean Couturier and last year’s winner, Blues center Ryan O’Reilly.
Hopefully one of these seasons the PHWA (Professional Hockey Writers Association) voters will see it in their wisdom to finally award Bergeron the unprecedented honor for his continued excellence as a two-way player with the numbers this year to back it all up.
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Bergeron led all Bruins forwards in shifts per game (22.9) for a team that allowed an NHL-best 174 goals, and he led in face-off win percentage (57.9 percent) among the eight centers in the NHL who took more than 1,300 draws. The 34-year-old Bergeron posted 31 goals and 25 assists for 56 points and his plus-23 rating ranked ninth among all NHL forwards.
On sheer numbers in terms of face-off efficiency and dominance, penalty-killing impact, overall defensive contribution and two-way play, Bergeron has a killer case that should make this the season he finally surpasses Hall of Famer Bob Gainey with his Selke collection.
But the entire world might have missed out on Bergeron’s diligence, instincts, work ethic and attention to detail if not for a frank conversation he had with his coach while still a teenager playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. It was in Bergeron’s only full season at Acadie-Bathurst when he put up 23 goals and 73 points for the Titans, and his head coach Real Paiment had a chat with No. 37 about what it was going to take to make it to the NHL.
Clearly it left an impression on Bergeron, who was drafted in the second round by the Bruins that June and never played another junior hockey shift again after impressing everybody at Bruins NHL camp that following autumn as an 18-year-old unknown.
“In junior, my coach [Real Paiment] back then made me realize I couldn’t make it to the next level only on my offense. I needed to work on face-offs and he actually put me on the wing for a period of time that year to make me learn how to play the right wing. I guess it was to have more options [at the pro level],” said Bergeron. “He basically told me that if I was going to make it, I needed to explore more things on the offensive side of things… but also on the defensive side of things. I needed to get better and I couldn’t just rely on one thing to get me to that next level.
“Once I got to Boston, I think my coaches really helped me a lot. Whether it was Mike Sullivan early on, or Claude [Julien] when he came in really helping me work on the defensive side of things. Whether it was my teammates, you try to take things from different guys, make them your own and get better that way. Even now [with Bruce Cassidy] I still try to learn and try to get better to [improve] my game. It’s a work in progress… It still is.”
Clearly there was a work ethic and hockey I.Q. with Bergeron that was always going to make him a success at the NHL level when combined with his undeniable hockey talent. Still, it was the conversation with Paiment that stuck with Bergeron and left an impression that helped turn him into the best two-way center of his generation, a consummate winner and a player who will someday end up in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“It was more what [Paiment] said midway through the year, where if you expect to make it to the next level relying on one thing then ‘you don’t get it’ basically,” said Bergeron. “You need to make sure you know every aspect of the game, and that you work on every aspect of the game if you want to make it at the next level. It was great to hear, but it was even better to put in all the effort and time to do it.”
The rest is history, as they say, with Bergeron becoming the youngest player in the NHL during his rookie season in 2003-04, racking up over 1,000 games with the Bruins, becoming one of the most respected players around the league over the last 15 years and winning at every level he’s ever played at from World Junior, to World Cup, to Stanley Cup and to individual awards like the Selke Trophy.
Clearly, it’s also about the ability Bergeron has always brought to the table as perhaps the best second round pick in the history of the Bruins franchise.
But it’s also a reminder just how important coaching is with young players at that key point in their hockey careers, and a coach providing something Bergeron absolutely needed to hear at a crucial point in his development.