BOSTON — Tyler Seguin didn’t have to look too far and wide to learn a few hockey and life lessons this season.
In one corner of his locker room was Patrice Bergeron, the heart and soul of this team at age 27. The center was forced out of a hockey game (keyword being “forced”) with what doctors feared was a spleen injury, only to return two days later because it was just a broken rib and some torn cartilage. He then suffered a separated shoulder, to boot, but that didn’t keep him grounded as he played to the very end of the B’s campaign.
Centering the top line all season was David Krejci, a 26-year-old who dominated the Stanley Cup playoffs and led the NHL in the league’s second season with 26 points. Krejci took over the team’s first two series’ as he buried five goals and tallied 12 assists in the team’s first 11 games. He then followed that string up with four goals in the B’s first three games against the mighty Penguins — a team they swept in four games. Talk about stepping things up when it matters most.
A few stalls down sits big Zdeno Chara, the team’s captain and resident giant who is tasked with taking on and taking down the best of the best — no questions asked, no ifs, ands, buts or time constraints. A guy who keeps Tuukka Rask‘s zone clear of enemies and who steps up on offense, Chara does everything he can every night — whether it’s preseason or Game 7 — to give his team the best chance to win.
There’s Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley, two veteran guys who were relegated to third and fourth line duties this year, only to prove to their teammates and this city that such a “demotion” is actually one of the most noble promotions and most important roles in this region’s sports-sphere. They prove that it’s not always a goal and an assist that makes a hero, but that it’s a cycle here, a corner battle won there and a neutral zone takeaway on a hard backcheck sprinkled in between.
Finally, there’s Gregory Campbell. … period. The reason why he needs no further explanation is the same reason why that, not just Seguin, but every hockey player ages 3-63 can learn a lifetime of hockey from the Merlot Liner.
“You learn from it, and you use it for motivation,” he told the press late Monday night as he removed his equipment for the final time this season. “I’ve never felt so motivated in my life that I could come into [Game 6]. When you look around the room whether it’s a guy like [Bergeron] fighting through everything, or just guys stepping up, Krejci, the way he played in these playoffs, and how big of a performer he was, and that whole line.”
Which leads us back to Seguin. The winger just completed his third NHL season, albeit a lockout-shortened sprint. The 21-year-old rode a wave of emotion this season — which started prior to the regular season overseas and ended in heartbreak. Boston’s next star saw time on Boston’s lower six, making him more of a role player than the goal scorer this city hoped he’d become by now. But that’s what makes this team and this locker room unique. It’s not about hitting a goal quota or racking up personal hardware — it’s about fine-tuning your role and doing what it takes to make the guy next to you a better player. If that means jumping out on the penalty kill for 20 seconds or dumping and chasing into a corner full of opponents looking for blood, each member of this team can and will do that. Seguin is no different, despite the high expectations he has to live with.
In three years — that includes a shortened season and 42 postseason games — Seguin has 62 goals and 77 assists in 245 career games, which incudes a plus-53 in 203 regular-season affairs.
A forward’s third season doesn’t necessarily make or break a player’s career, but it’s a good indication of where a player is headed. It’s when trends start to set it and stand out as the learning curve is expected to be collecting dust in rearview mirrors. But Seguin’s third year makes things tough to judge, as he spent a wildly successful short season overseas where he lit the lamp for EHC Biel of the Swiss National League, only to come back to the States for a regular-season sprint. He potted 16 goals and 16 assists in 48 games but disappeared in the playoffs — many folks easily forget that he buried a goal (his lone tally of the postseason) in Game 4 against the Rangers.
But his bleak postseason might just be what fuels both his offseason and his teammates’ expectancies of the young sniper in the 2013-14 season. Seguin, like everyone in Boston, knows he will have to pick things up when the Black and Gold take the ice next, as no second-overall draft pick is expected to be a third liner by his fourth season. His teammates mean the world to him and he means the world to them. This locker room is tight because they play hard but they play for each other. They don’t want to earn the Bruins Ranger Jacket just to look cool in camouflage, they want it because it’s a tip of the cap from their family, and both Seguin and his Bruins brothers want nothing more than to see him improve next season.
“I’ve never felt anything like this,” he said after the loss. “I’ve never cried for as long as I’ve known until tonight. It sucks, but I love the guys in this locker room, and I’m going to miss them this offseason, but I’m going to make sure I’m working even harder for next year.”
There’s no doubt Seguin can and will come into the 2013-14 season primed to go. He has the skillset, the fire and a locker room full of inspiration and support to guide him every step of the way. The 21-year-old has experienced both heartache and happiness when Lord Stanley’s chalice makes an appearance so he doesn’t have to dig to deep for motivation to help his team reach hockey’s biggest stage again.