The Bruins center has always been a two-way force on the ice, a key contributor to Boston's success and one of the best shutdown forwards in the league. That final element received some overdue recognition Monday when Bergeron was named a finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, awarded annually "to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game."
"It's a long time coming," Bruins center Gregory Campbell said. "He's a guy that I think you get more of an appreciation for when you play with him. Obviously he's an elite player in the league and he's recognized I'm sure by all the teams, but once you play with a player, you really realize day in and day out how important they are to the team, what a leader he is off the ice and obviously his ability to shut down the top players in the league."
While his teammates have learned to appreciate everything that Bergeron brings to the game, he made it clear that the team success he shares with them means a lot more to him than any potential individual honors.
"I take pride in playing both sides of the rink and doing the little details in order to help the team win as much as I can," Bergeron said. "I think this award is somewhat, I guess, compensating the guys that play on both sides of the ice, so yes, I'm happy with it, but at the same time, I don't really believe in individual awards as much as the team efforts. I think every time you're nominated for an award like that, it's because of your teammates and the help of all of them."
While the ever-modest Bergeron deflects praise almost as well as he breaks up scoring chances on the ice, his fellow Bruins had no qualms in stating his case for the Selke.
"Obviously, he's a leader in this locker room, not only because of what he says or how he acts, but he symbolizes what being a Bruin is all about — good, honest two-way hockey that helps you win," Bruins center Chris Kelly said. "Bergy has the offensive ability that he could be up there in league scoring without a doubt if he maybe played like some guys play, not focusing on the defensive games as much, but he plays the game the way it should be played, and he's the reason why this team has success."
This is Bergeron's first time being named a finalist for the Selke, and he's up against some stiff competition in St. Louis center David Backes and Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, who won the award in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and was a finalist last season.
"He's won it a lot in the past," Bergeron said of Datsyuk. "He seems to be nominated almost every year, so he's obviously a great player, a player that everyone respects. To be nominated with him is, like I said, a huge honor. David Backes, obviously we don't get to see him as much out west, but he seems to be a very good player, hard to play against. Like me, he seems to take a lot of pride in his details on the ice, and that's why he's there."
There's some pretty good reasons why Bergeron will be headed to Vegas for the NHL awards as well. He led the NHL in plus/minus at plus-36 this year, and there was no home cooking involved as he was an identical plus-18 at home and on the road. He was second in the league in faceoff percentage at 59.2 percent, led all Bruins forwards in shorthanded ice time (1:48 per game) and blocked shots (67) and had more than twice as many takeaways (55) as giveaways (25), all while being regularly matched against the opposition's top offensive line and playing most of the season on a line with youngsters Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand.
"I think not only is it fitting, but it's very deserving," Bruins coach Claude Julien said of Bergeron's nomination. "There's times where [a] coach will always support his player and say the right things, and there's other times where you have to be honest and say, well, what's the competition like and assess it in the best way possible. In my mind, there's no doubt that Patrice deserves this.
"The way he's played this year, the things he's done to be nominated, how good he's been defensively," Julien continued. "He's got two young players on each side of him, he's played against top players all year long, and he's the best plus player probably of that group. Faceoff-wise, he's been utilized in every situation. Offensively, defensively, key situations — he's done everything to deserve that. To be honest with you, I'd be very disappointed if he didn't win that. That's how I feel."
That's a sentiment shared across the Bruins locker room, and it should be shared across the league. Winning individual awards like the Selke may not be a goal Bergeron strives for, but after helping prevent so many goals, it's one he richly deserves to finally get.