Patrice Bergeron, Team Canada's go-to guy
Boston Bruins centre doesn't want to 'jinx' himself before Sochi
Check your ego at the door.
That was the famous mantra from the recording session featuring top American pop stars for We Are The World, the Michael Jackson/Lionel Richie ballad that raised money for African famine relief in 1985. Prince, then one of the top selling artists in the world, showed up unfashionably late and was shown the door. He just didn’t get it.
Checking your ego at the door is an absolute must when the best hockey players from Canada gather for international competition. Many players who are stars on their NHL teams are asked to take a reduced role in this all-star setting. They do so willingly, knowing full well they may be part of something very special.
Such was the case in 2010 in Vancouver when Boston Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron, one of the NHL’s best two-way forwards, took on a lesser role with the Olympic team. In a nutshell, he was a checker who played few minutes, but in critical times.
“Looking back, it was probably a little unfair to him,” said former NHL defenceman Chris Pronger. (Pronger also started the tournament playing fewer minutes than he was accustomed to, but ultimately wound up being a kingpin on the blue line in the gold medal game against the United States.)
"Patrice would sit on the bench for long periods of time and then we’d get a penalty and turn to him and say, ‘Okay, go out and kill it.’ That’s a pretty tough, but important, job.”
Once again, as Canada considers its roster for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, the team is stacked in the middle. The assumption is Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf and Jonathan Toews are locks to be the team’s top three pivots, while other skilled centres such as Eric Staal, Mike Richards, John Tavares, Matt Duchene, Joe Thornton and Claude Giroux, among others, could be asked to play the wing in order to be on the team.
Bergeron has been a fine two-way NHL performer since being drafted 45th overall in 2003, though he has shown flashes of high-end offensive flair such as in 2005-06 when he scored 31 goals and 73 points in 81 games. Although concussions threatened the career of the 28-year-old, who is from Ancienne-Lorette, Que., he has been healthy the past three seasons.
'I don't want to jinx myself'
Playing a specialized role in Vancouver took a little getting used to, but Bergeron said he was delighted to help in any way he could.
“It was definitely something different that I am not used to with the Bruins, but if you are asked to be on that team, you do whatever they ask you to do,” Bergeron said. “I took a lot of pride in my role and every time I got the call to be on the ice I tried to be ready. You have to make sure you keep your mind on the game while you are sitting on the bench because you never know when you’ll be out next.”
Bergeron completed the tournament with one assist in seven games and played a grand total of 45:10 in the tournament – the lowest amount of ice time for any Canadian. Lest you think his contribution was minimal, Pronger said quite the opposite was true.
“These were critical shifts for our team that he was asked to play and he went out there and played hard,” Pronger said.
Sitting for long stretches at a time presented Bergeron with mental hurdles, but he said staying focused was huge in allowing him to be on his game when called upon.
“I was trying to really focus on the game when I was watching and trying visualize being out there,” Bergeron said. “Also, on every commercial break I would get out on the ice and skate to get my legs going.”
Of course there are no guarantees Bergeron will be on the team that travels to Sochi. In fact, he was uncomfortable even talking about such things as playing on the larger ice.
“I have played on large ice before and it’s not much different,” he said. “It’s just hockey. Besides, I don’t want to jinx myself by talking about this team. I am concentrating on how I can help the Bruins.”
If there is one man who knows what Bergeron brings to the table, it is his coach in Boston, Claude Julien.
“He’s reliable night in and night out,” Julien said. “I just find that you don’t see many players like that anymore; players who every day when they come to the rink they are focused on their jobs and focused on putting the effort in that you need to be a successful player. He’s a good guy who likes to have fun, but the minute he gets ready either for a game or he steps on the ice for practice, it’s all business.
“There are no ifs or buts about it. He may not have the best game every night, but he’ll always give you his best effort and a coach can’t as for much more than that.”