The Bruins’ alternate captain has won a Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal and also gold at the World Junior Championships. But those were all team achievements.
In many ways it was fitting that Bergeron’s accolades had all been within the context of team accomplishments. Bergeron is the ultimate team player, after all.
But it was still an injustice that his individual skills and contributions to those successes had never been given the true recognition they deserved.
That changed Wednesday night in Las Vegas, where Bergeron finally won a long overdue Frank J. Selke Trophy at the 2012 NHL Awards. The Selke goes “to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.” By that criterion, Bergeron should have been accepting his third or fourth Selke Trophy on Wednesday.
Instead, it was just the first time Bergeron was even a finalist. And after watching slick-skating Ottawa blueliner Erik Karlsson take home the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman, Bergeron was surely sweating a bit. My Professional Hockey Writers Association colleagues hadn’t given him much confidence that they could recognize true defensive excellence with that decision, but they made up for it with their voting in the Selke.
Bergeron won in a landslide. He finished with 1,312 points and 106 first-place votes, easily outdistancing runner-up David Backes. The St. Louis center finished a distant second with 698 points and 24 first-place votes. Fellow finalist Pavel Datsyuk, a three-time winner of the award, finished with 553 points and eight first-place votes. For the purposes of full disclosure, my ballot had Bergeron, Backes and Rangers forward Ryan Callahan, who finished fourth with 326 points, in the top three spots.
Bergeron was certainly worthy of such support. He led the NHL in plus/minus in 2011-12 at plus-36 despite regularly going head-to-head with the opposition’s top scoring lines. No one in the league won more draws than the Bruins center, who won 973 faceoffs and finished second in the league among players who took 500 or more draws with a 59.3 winning percentage.
Bergeron also led all Bruins forwards with 67 blocked shots, added 73 hits and had 55 takeaways to just 25 giveaways. He was Boston’s top forward in both overall ice time (18:34) and shorthanded ice time (1:48) as he played a key role in all situations. And he did all that without sacrificing offense, finishing second of the team with 22-42-64 totals in 81 games.
Still, it came as no surprise that when Bergeron was finally being recognized for his individual accomplishments, he thought first of his teammates.
“Hockey is such a team sport that I have to thank my teammates for this award right now,” Bergeron said to open his acceptance speech. “They’re the reason why I’m here. Thanks for making my job easy.”
There was nothing easy about Bergeron’s path to this moment. He nearly had his career ended in 2007 when he was brutally hit from behind into the boards by then-Flyers defenseman Randy Jones. Bergeron missed the final 72 games of that season with a severe concussion and 18 more the following year with more injury issues, including another concussion. He slowly but steadily regained his old form in the ensuing years, and the last several seasons has emerged as one of the best two-way forwards in the league, even if formal recognition of that fact had been slow in coming.
That wait, unjust as it may have been, only served to make Wednesday’s ceremony sweeter.
“It does feel special,” Bergeron told reporters in Las Vegas. “Playing both sides of the rink is something that I take a lot of pride in. That’s the way I learned to play hockey and to actually win an award that’s given to the best defensive forward or two-way forward is something very special. But like I said, I can’t do this without my teammates. They’re the reason why I’m here, and I’m very happy my name is going to be on this trophy.”
Bergeron then started reading off some of the names he’ll be joining. Those include Datsyuk, Rod Brind’Amour, Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Ron Francis, Doug Gilmour and Bobby Clarke. There’s even one other Bruin, as Steve Kasper won it all the way back in 1982 in just the fifth year of the award’s existence.
“It’s pretty impressive, and also pretty humbling,” Bergeron said of looking at the other names inscribed on the Selke Trophy.
Impressive and humble might just be the two best words to describe Bergeron, even as the unassuming Bruins star now can finally, officially be referred to as Patrice Bergeron, Selke Trophy winner.