Mark Recchi

Best performances from Boston athletes after turning 40 years old

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Best performances from Boston athletes after turning 40 years old

Tom Brady is defying the odds. 

The Patriots quarterback is celebrating his 42nd birthday Saturday and the GOAT is still one of the best players in the NFL. His peers just ranked him as No. 6 on the Top 100 players from the 2018 season.

But Brady isn't ready to call it quits. He has repeatedly cited a desire to play until he's 45, and it would be foolish to bet against him at this point.

He's already had more success after turning 40 than most quarterbacks do over their entire career, but he's not the only athlete to not just play, but thrive, after age 40.

From Robert Parish to Ted Williams to Zdeno Chara to David Ortiz, Boston sports history is full of great seasons from the "over-the-hill" set.

Click here for our list of the best performances from Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, and Patriots after turning 40 years old.>>>>>

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Bruins' Patrice Bergeron reaches 1,000-games-played milestone

Bruins' Patrice Bergeron reaches 1,000-games-played milestone

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.

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“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.

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“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.”

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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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Recchi's Hall of Fame legacy lives on in Bruins dressing room

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Recchi's Hall of Fame legacy lives on in Bruins dressing room

Though it’s been almost seven years since Mark Recchi last suited up for the Boston Bruins, the unmistakably strong influence from his  2 1/2 years with them is something that’s still distinctive and recognizable around the team to this very day.

That kind of lasting impact is the mark of a Hockey Hall of Famer, so it’s certainly apropos that Recchi will be inducted as part of the 2017 Hall of Fame Class when the Toronto hockey institution opens its doors Monday night. Recchi has been in Toronto all weekend as part of the induction ceremonies and was at Friday night’s Bruins/Leafs game at Air Canada Centre along with Jeremy Jacobs, Dave Andreychuk, Paul Kariya, Teemu Selanne and Danielle Goyette.

Earlier in the day each of the new inductees had received their own HOF ring during an impressive ceremony at the Great Hall, surrounded by walls of Hall of Fame plaques.

For Recchi, it was a proud moment he was sharing with his immediate family and the hockey family that played a role in his remarkable 22 years in the NHL, during which he won three Stanley Cups with three different teams and finished with 577 goals and 1,533 points in 1,652 career games. The stunning offensive numbers, the winning that followed him wherever he went, and the great leader he became in the second half of his career were always Hall of Fame-caliber credentials in every way, shape and form.

“This is a tremendous honor. It’s the icing on the cake,” said Recchi. “This is the pinnacle of a 22-year career and being rewarded for that, and it’s incredible . . . such a great honor. What an incredible feeling to get here and see all of the other [inductees]. It’s not an easy sport. It’s a very grueling sport. To be able to do it for a long time is something I’m very proud of.

“It’s just something where you hope that they think your body of work is worthy enough to come in [to the Hall of Fame], and fortunately I got that call. I couldn’t be more excited. No matter how far I went along or how big or small my contract was, I always thought I had to earn whatever I got. I wanted to prove it, and I wanted to earn everything. I didn’t want anything handed to me. I had that mindset for 22 years.”

There was also a palpable excitement in the Bruins dressing room leading up to this weekend with former teammates like Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask excited they’d be able to have some involvement in his Hall of Fame weekend while up in Toronto. Bergeron still remained in close contact with Recchi following his retirement after the 2011 Stanley Cup, and they’ll always have the lifelong bond of Recchi handing the Cup over to Bergeron after a victorious Game 7 in Vancouver.

The respect and admiration Bergeron holds for Recchi is evident whenever he talks about him, and he’s far from alone.

It’s an appreciation for some of the ways the new Hall of Famer helped mold him as a leader at a key point in his career as he was emerging from young player to a veteran leader of men.

Bergeron still remembers during the Cup season when the Bruins were in the middle of a three-game losing streak after tough March losses to Montreal, Buffalo and the Islanders. Recchi pulled Bergeron aside ahead of a game in Columbus and urged him “that the time was right to say something to the boys” in the middle of a losing stretch. Bergeron was never a big talker or a real rah-rah guy, and he didn’t have to be earlier in his career with so many veterans around. But he spoke up in the Bruins dressing room that day. They won that night over the Blue Jackets, took points in 8 of their next 10 games, and began the ascent that would eventually see them hoist the Cup that June. It’s one of those key moments that Bergeron still looks back on very fondly.

There were plenty of teachable moments in their three seasons together, and Recchi was a master by the time he was with the Bruins in his early 40s . . . whether it was himi puke from the pain of playing through kidney stones in a playoff series, seeing him refuse to back down from anybody when it came to claiming his net-front space, or simply watching him gauge the temperature of the dressing room through a long 82-game regular season.

Bergeron was always on the path to be a great two-way player and a natural leader based on his work ethic and personality, but Recchi was the perfect teammate at the perfect time to help draw those qualities out of him.

“He’s been amazing to me in my career, and I’m always going to say that,” said Bergeron, who teamed with Recchi and Brad Marchand to become an inseparable, dangerous line during the run to the Stanley Cup in 2011. “It’s well-deserved and it was just a matter of time before he was going to get in [to the Hall of Fame]. I’m really happy it’s right now. I learned a lot from watching him about when is a good time to step up [and say something] and when is a good time to lead by example on the ice.

“He also has helped me a lot to find that [leader] within myself, and to be a little more vocal about it. He had a huge impact on that. I remember there was one time he grabbed me aside in Columbus and said ‘I think today would be a good time for you to have a little meeting with the boys.’ He could have done it, but he wanted me to learn when it’s a good time for that. We were going through a little bit of a slump if you want to call it that, and it was a big game for us. I said what I had to say, and he said to just speak from your heart. There are things that you learn from, and I learned a lot from that.”

The feeling is mutual between Recchi and Bergeron, and from Recchi’s perspective, it feels almost more like a prideful father figure as he’s watched Bergeron become one of the best players in the NHL. Perhaps there’s even a chance that Bergeron will someday join him in the Hall as the best two-way center of his generation. At different times in the formative years of his career, Bergeron had had two major role models in Martin Lapointe and Recchi, and both veteran NHL warriors made major impacts on such a naturally gifted player and person.

“Absolutely . . . I would think that there would be a few there in [Bergeron] and [Zdeno Chara],” said Recchi, when asked if he thought any more members of that 2011 Bruins Cup team would someday be in the Hall. “Guys like that have had great, amazing careers, and it would be really nice to see them here someday.

“I got near the end of my career and I get around a guy like [Bergeron], who I think is just the ultimate complete player. I could see [the leadership aspect] growing as the seasons went on when we were there together, and I just remember at one point just going up to him and telling him that it was his time and that he was ready. He stepped up, and he was ready. He was ready to assume [that responsibility]. He’s such a great person and such a great leader.”

It’s not just Bergeron, however, that continues to use the lessons learned in a special three-season run with Recchi. 

It would have taken a pretty significant injury to keep Marchand from playing in Recchi’s official introduction as a Hall of Famer this weekend in Toronto, and he was there at his pesky best when the puck dropped on Friday night. It’s easy to remember the 6-foot-9 Chara constantly marveling at the grit and toughness that Recchi played with while jousting at the front of the net, and routinely fending off players much bigger and stronger than his 5-foot-10, 195-pound frame.

It was almost like the hockey version of Ivan Drago describing Rocky Balboa (“He’s not human…he’s like a piece of iron.”) in amazement as their fight played out in Rocky IV.

Claude Julien has coached Hall of Famers and players all over the map in his NHL coaching stints with Montreal, New Jersey and Boston, and he quickly recognized what kind of impactful, positive influence Recchi made to a young Bruins team once he arrived. It took a couple of seasons for it all to mix together perfectly, but a tough, experienced and talented competitor like Recchi was an irreplaceable part of the championship mix.

“Everything he has done in his career from going to team to team and winning a Stanley Cup in Carolina, and then coming [to Boston] . . . I think he was a big part of [the Bruins] Stanley Cup quest,” said Julien. “His experience and his wisdom, from all of the past experiences in his career, really resonated in the dressing room. [Recchi] and Chara really took charge of the situation back then, and really utilized each other’s strengths to help the team stay together.

“But it’s also everything that he’s done. When I look back at what he was early in his career with the number of goals he scored, and then getting to an age where he was so smart at adjusting his game while continuing to be efficient. Even at his age when he was [in Boston], he was still the ‘Recching Ball’ finishing his checks, and going through anybody to get to the front of the net. He didn’t care if Zdeno was shooting from the point, he was standing in front of the net and he wasn’t going to budge. I thought he was such a smart player that adjusted his game, and made sure he was always bringing something to the team all the time on or off the ice. He’s also been a great ambassador to the game, and he’s still involved in hockey. This is a guy that I feel is very deserving.”

Truth be told, Recchi has been deserving of the call to the Hall for at least a few years. Regardless of how long it took, the measure of the man is Hall of Fame all the way as his resonant influence lives on in his former Bruins teammates running the Boston dressing room.  

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