Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron wasn't even on the radar of most in the hockey world when Hockey Canada held a pre-Olympic orientation camp last summer for candidates to make the Canadian Olympic squad.
But one man, the most important one involved in the decision-making process for naming the roster, had Bergeron in the back of his mind the whole time. That man was Canadian general manager Steve Yzerman.
Yzerman planned on watching the Quebec City native closely through the first three months of the season.
"Stevie always liked Bergeron's versatility and two-way game," NBC and TSN Olympic hockey analyst Pierre McGuire told NESN.com recently. "He was impressed with Bergeron's faceoff skills as well and his play along the boards."
Well, Bergeron continued to impress as the season went on, regaining the form he displayed before suffering a Grade 3 concussion on Oct. 27, 2007, and missing the rest of the 2007-08 season. Bergeron has become the team's leading scorer (37 points) and a quiet leader as an alternate captain this season, and his effort and passion were rewarded when, to the surprise of many, Yzerman named him to the Canadian Olympic squad just prior to the Winter Classic.
For Bergeron, words can hardly express how honored he is to be donning the Maple Leaf in the Olympics, just as he did in the 2005 and 2006 World Junior Championships.
"This is something really special for me and a great experience," Bergeron told NESN.com before he left for Vancouver. "So far, winning the gold at the World Juniors (2005) was the best feeling I had, representing your country. I was watching that every year as a kid, and it was a dream for me to be on that team, and I made it. And winning the gold was very special, and I am looking forward to that for the Olympics."
Bergeron will also have his first Olympic experience on home soil as part of the host team in Vancouver. The expectations are immense for Canada, and nothing short of gold will suffice for the nation that bleeds hockey. But rather than let such expectations become a burden, Bergeron is looking at his fellow countrymen's passion as motivation.
"We have high expectations on ourselves as team, so I don't think the outside pressure will be a factor," he said. "[We have to] make sure we go out there and do what we want to do, win, and make sure that we build from the excitement of all the Canadians that are cheering for us.
"It is going to be amazing having the fans cheer for us," he added. "Looking forward to it a lot. Knowing the whole country is going to be behind us, cheering for us, it is going to be loud and amazing. Vancouver is known to be a great hockey town, so with those fans and the others traveling, it will be really exciting."
On Monday, Bergeron was practicing at right wing with a familiar linemate, Penguins captain and center Sidney Crosby. Head coach Mike Babcock had Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash on the left wing with Bergeron and Crosby. Bergeron and Crosby found magic at the 2005 and 2006 World Junior Championships. In the 2005 World Juniors in North Dakota, the two combined for 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) en route to a gold medal. In 2006 in Latvia, the two were the tournament's top scorers, combining for 16 goals and 16 assists. Bergeron had a feeling he may be reunited before he left for Vancouver, and he was excited at the prospect of that happening.
"The chemistry was very good, and we worked well together, played, and had fun," Bergeron said recently. "We all wanted to get the puck to bring it back to the forecheck, and we all wanted to work hard and improve on the ice. So we were working on a lot of plays, and it gave us success during the short tournament."
Though both players have come quite a ways since their junior days, Bergeron is hopeful that they'll be able to quickly rekindle their on-ice relationship.
"I had the same style back then, always been that type of player playing on both sides of the ice, and Sid was a great teammate and great guy, always wanting to get better, good leader," Bergeron said. "[It was] fun having him with me on the line on the ice. I look forward to seeing him again."
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