Patrice Bergeron's "Do not suffer alone" message to Gemel Smith another example of great leadership

Patrice Bergeron's "Do not suffer alone" message to Gemel Smith another example of great leadership

BRIGHTON, Mass – Patrice Bergeron has never been cut from an NHL training camp roster in his 16-year career as a professional hockey player.

That didn’t stop the 34-year-old center from handing out his cell number to players sent back to Providence this week, and offering to be in touch if they need anything during a challenging time for them as hockey players.

That’s just the kind of leader Bergeron is inside an NHL dressing room, and exactly the kind of quality person he is both on and off the ice regardless of circumstance.

With that in mind, it was no surprise when news surfaced last week that Bergeron played an important role in helping turn things around for a Bruins player that had hit a low point in his life last season. Gemel Smith spent only the second half of last season with the Bruins organization after getting picked up on waivers from Dallas last December, and Smith ended up only playing a grand total of three games during his tenure in Boston.

It surely must have felt like his hockey career was coming to an end and Smith was taking it hard.

“I made myself go to a sunken place,” said Smith to the Athletic. “I couldn’t sleep for a month. I felt very alone. I isolated myself from everyone else because I’m a guy that keeps to myself. That’s where I went wrong [when] I should have talked to somebody [who could] help me through it.”

Enter No. 37 as it only took a brief amount of time for Bergeron to make an impact on the 25-year-old center’s life when he was clearly at a crossroads.

Smith admitted to the Athletic in a preseason interview that depression and despair had overwhelmed him as things spun in neutral with the Black and Gold. He was waived by two NHL organizations within weeks of each other and he was stuck in the AHL away from anybody he knew in the Dallas organization. It was Bergeron, though, that noticed something didn’t seem right with Smith in their brief time together, and didn’t hesitate to offer both a friendly ear and other people he could chat with in his time of need.

Bergeron said his biggest point to his teammate was that he wasn’t alone. The B’s franchise center pointed the struggling Smith toward Bruins team psychologist Max Offenberger while making it very clear to the youngster that people cared about him within the Bruins dressing room.

“It was one of those things where you never know if somebody wants to talk about it. [Smith] was just somebody that seemed like he wasn’t himself,” said Bergeron to NBC Sports Boston of his time with Smith last December. “I didn’t know him very well, but he seemed very down and introverted. I thought something was going on and I just reached out to let him know I was there if he needed to talk.

“We had a little talk and I just told him to maybe talk about it [more]. There’s a saying ‘Do not suffer alone.’ And it’s the biggest thing in life and also in hockey. Sometimes in sports there are a lot of things involved with the game that can be hard to handle, and his situation wasn’t easy. It’s hard on anyone. That’s all I did. I just said a few words to try and make him feel better, and it made a difference. I was just trying to be there for him. I really don’t deserve that much credit, but I’m really happy that he’s doing better.”

People often talk of Bergeron’s leadership on the ice after 16 years as one of the faces of the NHL, and with good reason. He’s got the four Selke Trophies, the Stanley Cup title and many other team-won accomplishments over his nearly two decades in Boston.

It was Bergeron’s pep talk that fired up his teammates ahead of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final in St. Louis and ended up even making Game 7 possible prior to its disappointing end. It would probably be easy for a player with Bergeron’s resume to simply not reach out, or even notice, if a teammate was enduring a down period as Smith most certainly was.

But that’s not Bergeron and it won’t ever be simply because of who he is.

Instead, the whole situation was a look inside exactly what makes the Bruins dressing room such a welcoming place for players from all backgrounds and experience levels. It’s a crucial part when the off-the-ice bond helps build on-the-ice strength and character. It’s empathetic people like Bergeron in Bruins leadership roles that make it such an accepting place where individuals are cared for as people, in addition to being hockey players.

“We all have our issues and we all have a vulnerable side to us. It’s about not being afraid to reach out and talk to one another. It’s perfectly normal. It shouldn’t be frowned upon, quite the contrary actually. He was only here for a couple of days and he didn’t seem like he was okay. I thought I would just talk to him,” said Bergeron to NBC Sports Boston. “I think it’s changed over the years a lot, in general as much in life as in hockey. I think people are more open to acceptance and realizing that we’re all equal. It goes hand-in-hand with us in this locker room. Whether it’s a rookie or a 42-year-old guy that’s been through everything and is going to be a Hall of Famer, we all have a voice. We’re all there for each other.”

It’s sometimes said in half-joking terms that Bergeron is perfect in just about everything he does on and off the ice. But there’s a lot of truth in the innately good way that Bergeron goes about his business both on and off the ice and the example he sets daily.

It’s made him a great player on the ice. It’s also made him a winner and one of the best leaders in the NHL today while co-leading the Bruins with captain Zdeno Chara.

But Bergeron’s interaction with Smith also illustrated why No. 37 is an excellent teammate always looking out for the other guys in his dressing room no matter how many games they end up playing for the Boston Bruins. And that’s what really matters, after all.

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Bruins-Flames Talking Points: Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand spark B's after sluggish start

Bruins-Flames Talking Points: Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand spark B's after sluggish start

GOLD STAR: Patrice Bergeron helped the Bruins get back almost by himself after they fell behind by a 2-0 score to the Calgary Flames. Bergeron scored a pair of goals in the first six minutes of the game to withstand the three-goal barrage from the Flames, and now has goals in five consecutive games and seven in his last seven games during a red-hot offensive period.

Bergeron finished with two goals, the plus-1 rating, three shots on net and three takeaways in 15:59 of ice time. He won 13-of-19 face-offs in a dominant showing in pretty much every facet of the game. In other words, it was just another great effort from No. 37 in another win for the Bruins.

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BLACK EYE: No shots, no hits and no anything from Sean Monahan in 19:31 of ice time for the Flames in a nothing performance from one of Calgary’s best players. It was Monahan that failed to tie up  Bergeron on his second goal of the night after a David Pastrnak shot bounced off the end boards with a carom right to Bergeron in front.

Really, it was a team-wide no-show for the Flames after scoring the first three goals in the opening seven minutes of the first period. After that they managed just a handful of shots in the second period before a better third, but they never got another goal past Jaroslav Halak after Brad Marchand's go-ahead goal.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins clearly weren’t ready to go at the start of the game as they allowed a goal 20 seconds into the game and then fell behind by two goals less than three minutes into the first period. Perhaps Halak could have made a better attempt to stop the shot on Calgary’s second goal, but it was still a scorched one-timer on an odd-man rush. The goals allowed were much more about lax defense by the Bruins even if Halak allowed three goals on six shots faced in the first period.

After that, though, the B’s defense tightened up and went into shutdown mode after allowing one more goal in the first period. Once they got through that rough opening few minutes, the Flames offense was held down and the soft Calgary defense was exposed by the Bruins en route to the one-goal win for the Black and Gold.

HONORABLE MENTION: Brad Marchand ended up with the game-winner when he scored the lone goal in the second period after redirecting a Brandon Carlo point shot. Marchand did a nice job of stepping into traffic to redirect the outside shot, but it was also a byproduct of Calgary failing to lift his stick once he got ideal position in front of the net.

Marchand finished with a goal, two points and a plus-1 rating in 18:36 of ice time, had five shots on net and had a hit and a takeaway in a very active game for the entire Perfection Line. Give Marchand and Bergeron credit for refusing to allow the Bruins to lose even after they dropped behind by a couple of goals just minutes into a wild, crazy game out in Calgary.

BY THE NUMBERS: 7 – the number of teams to win a game in NHL history after allowing three goals in the first four minutes of the game. The B’s became that seventh team when they pulled out the 4-3 win in Calgary.  

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I’m a physical player, so those games are comfortable. I’m just trying to help the team win. It was really physical. It was a good game to be a part of for sure.” –Jeremy Lauzon on the night where he got in his first NHL fight with Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk.

Watch Jeremy Lauzon drop gloves with Matthew Tkachuk for first NHL fight

Watch Jeremy Lauzon drop gloves with Matthew Tkachuk for first NHL fight

Jeremy Lauzon officially has his first NHL fight under his belt.

The 22-year-old tussled with Calgary Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk during the second period of Friday night's game to mark the first bout of his NHL career. Tkachuk certainly gave Lauzon a challenge, but the Boston Bruins defenseman held his own.

Watch below:

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Not a bad first scrap for the B's youngster.

While Tkachuk may have won the fight, Lauzon and the Bruins were the winners in the end as they defeated the Flames 4-3 in a thriller. Boston now has won 11 of its last 12 games.