Spending a great deal of the 2007-08 and '08-09 seasons out with concussions and post-concussion issues, Bergeron wasn't on the ice all that often. Fans could be forgiven for questioning whether the team missed his impact.
True, the Bruins did better than expected, especially last year, making the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the East and taking the Carolina Hurricanes to overtime in a thrilling Game 7 in the second round. Bergeron registered five points and averaged 17:58 of ice time in 11 playoff games, but one wonders how much further they would have gotten with a completely healthy No. 37 on the ice.
Now back to 100 percent, Bergeron has been the anchor that's held the Bruins in place so far this season. Showing no ill effects from his original or subsequent concussion, Bergeron has been virtually the only member of the Bruins whose steady play has never been in question.
After barely keeping their heads above water early on, the B's have found their stride of late and have been playing some solid hockey. It's helped getting some of their stars back from injury. The Bruins' offense has gotten a shot in the arm in the form of the announcement of the team's long-term commitment to Marc Savard. But with the uncertainty of Milan Lucic – on injured reserve for the second time this season — and the dance between goaltenders Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask, the one constant this season for the Black and Gold has been Bergeron.
He leads the team in points with 24, is tied for second on the team in goals (his eight are tied with Savard and Michael Ryder, one behind Marco Sturm's nine) and stands second in assists with 16 behind captain Zdeno Chara (17).
But beyond the numbers and stats, Bergeron's output hasn't wavered all season. As Matt Kalman wrote for ESPN in late November, Bergeron was the only Bruins player to "produce a consistent, 100-percent effort every night." And Bergeron's effort — even if it hasn't always shown up on the stat sheet — hasn't gone unnoticed.
Steve Yzerman, NHL Hall of Famer and executive director of Canada's men's national hockey team, watched Bergeron's stellar performance against Tampa Bay two weeks ago. And he'll no doubt take Bergeron's play into consideration when he chooses Team Canada's representatives for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
"I've watched Patrice play this year, and he's played very well," Yzerman commented, adding that Bergeron's history of injuries — not a lack of talent — was what has kept him off the roster to this point.
Bruins coach Claude Julien also has shown a great deal of support and belief in the young center, extending back to last season when he moved Bergeron off the point on the power play to fill in elsewhere for injured players. Such a move spoke to Julien's confidence in Bergeron and in the center's ability to keep up the consistency in other areas on the ice.
Bergeron's play has made those around him better, too. Tuesday night, Bergeron combined with Andrew Ference and Dennis Wideman to kill a Philadelphia 5-on-3 power play. Though the Bruins would eventually lose the game, Bergeron's defensive-zone faceoff victory was a brief snapshot of the way he's been playing all season.
After his initial concussion in October of 2007, many openly questioned whether Bergeron would ever return to form. Suffering such a debilitating concussion so early in one's career — he was just 22 at the time — often has lasting and deleterious effects. Bergeron did not return to full practice until eight months after his initial injury. Shortly after he returned, he experienced yet another setback on Dec. 20, 2008, in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes, when he suffered another concussion. The second was not as serious as his first, but it was nevertheless frightening and was yet another hurdle to clear in his young career.
Now nearly a year later, Bergeron, still only 24, has been the team's unquestioned MVP thus far. Many fans have long thought that, had the Bruins not signed Chara in July of 2006, Bergeron would have succeeded Joe Thornton as Bruins captain, as Bergeron currently serves as an alternate captain. Instead of lamenting his injuries or his absence from the ice, fans are ready to declare that "Bergy's back."
Carrying a team — especially a struggling one beset with multiple injuries — is never an easy task. It's doubly difficult for someone who hasn't been a huge part of the mix for the past two seasons. What Bergeron has managed to do this season thus far — both on the ice and in the leadership he's shown off it — speaks to a commitment beyond his years.
With the team jelling around him, Bergeron will continue to be the backbone for the healing B's as the season grinds on. With a 6-2-2 record in their last 10 games, the Bruins are on the way up and are showing signs of snapping out of their early-season funk. Bergeron deserves much of the credit.