Bergeron rewarded after long journey back to NHL

January, 1, 2010

BOSTON -- As far as three days go in an NHL player's career, take a bow, Patrice Bergeron. You deserve it.

"These couple of days have been amazing," the Boston Bruins forward said after Friday's Winter Classic.

For a player who wasn't sure he would ever play again less than two years ago, I am not sure "amazing" truly captures it.

To recap: Bergeron got a call Wednesday morning from Team Canada executive Kevin Lowe to tell him he made the 2010 Olympic team. It was considered the most surprising, yet certainly deserving, pick made by the team. Bergeron was almost numb with joy. He went out that night and scored in a 4-0 win over the Atlanta Thrashers.

Then came the Winter Classic on New Year's Day, a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most of the players on the ice Friday, and Bergeron set up Marco Sturm's overtime winner with a sweet pass that only elite players in this league can deliver. Bergeron left the ice in front of a rocking Fenway Park, looking around and wondering in amazement if all of it was really happening.

"Everything that's happened this week, it's just awesome," said the 24-year-old. "Overall, I can't ask for a better gift for New Year's."

Less than two years ago, Bergeron was more concerned with living a normal life again, like reading a book without getting a headache, never mind resuming his NHL career and earning a spot on the toughest Olympic squad to crack.

"I wasn't able to do usual things," said Bergeron. "Just walking around was giving me headaches and getting me dizzy. Watching TV, I couldn't do that for a long time. There were a lot of things I couldn't do."

He played only 10 games in 2007-08 after suffering a serious concussion. His return last season was a blessing, but the reality is he wasn't the same Patrice Bergeron of old. People were wondering. They can wonder no longer. He's back.

"He's our heart and soul," Bruins blueliner Derek Morris said in a jubilant Red Sox clubhouse Friday. "We had some key injuries early in the season and he's the guy that got us through those tough times. He's continued to lead by example. You know him, he's not a very vocal guy, he just goes out there and does his job.

"We don't overlook the things that he does so well every single game. He's getting rewarded because he's such a smart player and because he wants to be the best."

And he's getting rewarded for believing in himself, his victory over the demons in his head being just as important as the steps he took physically to return.

"Patrice has worked very hard physically and, more significantly, mentally to come back from his head injury," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told on Friday night. "His focus and determination in that regard has been very impressive. He deserves everything he receives."

Bergeron is a humble lad -- most hockey players are -- but he did point out how proud he was of himself for sticking through it.

"I'm not saying that in a cocky way, I'm happy ... that I stayed positive with myself, that I believed in myself, that I've learned through tough times," said Bergeron. "I'm just happy to be where I'm at now."

His 20th assist of the season Friday gave him a team-leading 31 points. And here's a frightening thought if you're a Bruins fan: just how much worse would this 27th-ranked offense be without Bergeron's contributions? We're talking maybe four or five wins fewer, at the very least.

"That's why we talk about him being our best player since the beginning of the year," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "What I saw in him tonight is the typical Patrice we have had since the beginning of the year. He brings his A-game every night and he has been by far the best, most reliable player."

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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