BOSTON — It’s a bit ironic that just days after the Boston Bruins enjoyed another physical battler with Philadelphia and Flyers defenseman Randy Jones was nearly felled by a hit from behind, today it was announced that Bruins center Patrice Bergeron is the club’s nominee for the 2009 Masterton Trophy.
While others might want to see Jones get hit or the Bruins take revenge for the hit the Philly defenseman threw at Bergeron in October 2007, causing a Grade 3 concussion, Bergeron has never held any ill will toward Jones above or beyond his distaste for any opposing player that’s trying to defeat the Bruins.
“I’m not that type of guy. He seemed like he didn’t mean to do it; he was feeling bad,” said Bergeron today after the club’s morning skate. “Still, I think it’s a hit from behind. I never felt really (I wanted) revenge. I felt frustrated all year that I couldn’t play, but that was pretty much the main thing.”
The Masterton is presented every season to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” All 30 chapters of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Associaiton nominate one player and the overall winner is voted on at the conclusion of the season.
In addition to the sportsmanship part, Bergeron and his triumphant return from that concussion are the epitome of the other two parts of the award. When he emerged a couple weeks after the hit, it was hard to imagine Bergeron would ever play again. He was banged up and bruised, he wore a neck brace and walked with a cane. The Bruins’ emerging superstar looked like a shell of his former self.
That day, he declared that he would play again. And in returning to action full-time this season he has not only made his words turn true — he’s surpassed his prediction by re-emerging as a burgeoining star that’s a main ingredient on a Bruins club that has realistic Stanley Cup expectations. Bergeron said he feels his game is just about where it was before the hit. And his head coach Claude Julien agrees.
“There’s so much that people don’t realize. Just take a step back and remember that this guy had to stay in the dark for a long, long time because he’d get a headache from just the light and everything else,” the coach said. “It gives you an idea of what he’s been through and where he is today, especially the last month or so — he’s been outstanding as a player. We’re starting to see the Patrice that we knew before the incident. And it couldn’t come at a better time.”
Bergeron started on his path to recovery late last winter by skating on his own. By the time the playoffs rolled around, he’d upped his workouts to near full speed and joined his teammates on the ice whenever possible. Alas, a spring return to action proved impossible when the team lost Game 7 of its first-round series to Montreal.
The 23-year-old used the summer to continue his workouts — getting on the ice whenver he could with whoever was willing and able to skate with him. He showed up for training camp cleared for action, but still needed to shake off the rust of all those months on the sidelines. Getting back into form took a little longer than he expected.
“I didn’t know what to expect, to be honest. At the same time, you always hope for the best, always think — maybe it’s going to be right away. I didn’t think it was going to take that long. It took a while and after it does sometimes it gets in your head and you wonder what’s going on,” said Bergeorn. “But now I’m very happy that I think my game is coming back. And I’m just happy to be out there with the guys and have a chance to help every game.”
The guys are pleased and inspired by Bergeron’s presence as well.
“I think sometimes the influence that a guy can come back from such a devastating injury — one that Everyday Joes don’t really encounter — and put himself in a position where he can put his health at risk again, it really shows the guy has a desire to play the game that’s at a level that people don’t understand,” said defenseman Aaron Ward. “I think the most enduring part of the whole thing is he’s come back and not just come back to play the game, now he’s a complete impact player. He’s an influence in the locker room. You look at him as a captain and he’s got a quiet demeanor about him, but he speaks with his actions and his actions are quite loud.”
There are other enduring things about Bergeron’s recovery. He learned to cook a little because he wanted to stimulate his mind while following a recipe. He started to read more English books, including “Way of the Peaceful Warrior” by Dan Millman. And now he is and forever will be a Masterton nominee.