Winter Classic: Bergeron's path becomes ever clearer

Nobody appreciated the turn in weather at Fenway Park more than the Boston Bruins' Patrice Bergeron on Thursday.

Shovelling Fenway snow no hardship after what Bruins' star has been through

Nobody appreciated the turn in weather at Fenway Park more than Patrice Bergeron on Thursday.

A six-centimetre snowfall transformed the venerable baseball stadium and its green monster into a magical white wonderland as the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers went through their tune-up sessions for the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day.

Bergeron was 24 hours removed from listening to a congratulatory voice mail from Team Canada associate director Kevin Lowe for making the Olympic team. But it wasn’t beneath him to grab a shovel near the end of practice on Thursday to clear a path through the snow for a friendly shootout competition with his teammates.

"It brought back a lot of memories from playing pond hockey with my brother," said the 24-year-old Bergeron, who was raised in the Quebec City suburb of Sillery. "I did [shovel the rink] when I was a kid. It looked pretty cool with the snow."

Bergeron will look cool in Canadian red and white in Vancouver in six weeks because of where he was 26 months ago, lying in a hospital bed, wondering whether his NHL career was over.

A 2nd-round steal

Boston's scouting staff stole Bergeron in the second round (45th overall) of the strong 2003 NHL entry draft. The Bruins brass planned to return him to his junior team, the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, after an exhibition game at Montreal’s Bell Centre on Sept. 18, 2003.

But the teenager scored in overtime in a 1-0 win. He was so impressive, his performance kept him in the NHL for good. Bergeron was on his way to NHL star status after becoming the first Canadian to win a world championship (2004) before world junior gold (2005). He then checked in with a combined 53 goals and 143 points in his second and third NHL seasons.

But Bergeron’s world came crashing down 10 games into his fourth season, when then Flyers defenceman Randy Jones smashed the young Bruin’s head into the glass on Oct. 27, 2007. Bergeron was knocked unconscious and endured a few setbacks as he tried to shake a debilitating post-concussion syndrome.

Mandatory vacation

The low point arrived a few months after the hit, when Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli ordered Bergeron to take a vacation somewhere warm.

"I tried to stay positive," he said. "I was asked many times if I would be the same player if and when I came back. I always believed it was just a matter of time. I had to make sure I took the time to get my rhythm and timing back to my full form. I feel like I have done that and I’m happy and I’m proud the way that I came back.

"I’m not saying that just to be cocky. I’m just happy in the way I was confident and believed in myself that I could get through the tough times."

The tough times lasted until springtime in 2008. But Bergeron couldn’t persuade the Bruins medical staff to allow him to participate in the playoffs. So he waited for his comeback to begin last year.

'A man amongst boys'

"He was good defensively for us the entire season," Shawn Thornton, the thoughtful Bruins forward, said. "But the way he played with [Recchi and Kobasew] in the playoffs, I don’t think he got many points, but I could tell he was coming back into his own. Then when I saw him in training camp this year, he was a man amongst boys.

"First and foremost, he deserves being named to Team Canada. As far as I’m concerned, he has been the heart and soul of this team. Every night he comes to play. Obviously, he is a very good hockey player. It was a tough two years for him, but last year he started to get it going and this year he is back where he was. It’s nice to see that people are taking notice."

Bergeron’s former world junior and world senior teammate Sidney Crosby is glad the Team Canada brass took notice.

"People don’t realize how good Patrice Bergeron is," Crosby said. "It’s a good thing the people in hockey know how good he really is. He’s a defensive force."