On eve of Bergeron's 1,000th game, looking back at his first

Matt Kalman
February 04, 2019 - 11:56 am

The NHL doesn’t have ties anymore, and few people miss them.

But one even-score game holds a special place in Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron’s heart.

The Bruins tied the New Jersey Devils 3-3 on Oct. 8, 2003 at TD Garden (then known as the FleetCenter). That night Bergeron, 18 at the time, logged 10:16 of ice time in his NHL debut.

“I mean I remember the tie, I remember playing obviously against Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer and Martin Brodeur. That was a reality check, I guess,” Bergeron recently told WEEI.com. “The first game’s always pretty special so I’ll definitely have some good memories of that one. Even though it was a tie, it was still special.”

Almost 15 ½ years later, Bergeron will play the 1,000th game of his NHL career when the Bruins host the New York Islanders at the Garden on Tuesday. He will become the fifth Bruins player to reach that milestone, following in the footsteps of Ray Bourque, Johnny Bucyk, Don Sweeney and Wayne Cashman.

That first game against New Jersey culminated a hectic few months for Bergeron, starting with the Bruins drafting him in the second round (45th overall) in June 2003. Not much was expected from the Quebec native that fall.

“I got drafted in the second round and my junior training camp started in August, so I was with my team before going to Boston. So my expectations were to come back,” Bergeron said. “So I was kind of talking to my teammates like ‘you know, hopefully I’ll leave a good impression there and I’ll see you guys … hopefully I’ll stay as long as I can.’ And I got here and that’s what I wanted to do, leave a mark and be better for the next year and maybe learn and be like a sponge, like I always say, try to learn from the older guys.

“And my first exhibition game was in Montreal. So they’re like ‘you’ve played well, so we’re going to give you that game, so just tell your family and then you’re going to go to your junior team.’ So I wasn’t supposed to come back and then I scored that game in overtime and I came back with the team. And then I played the rest of the [exhibition] season to finally get the contract.”

Former Bruins general manager Mike O’Connell, now the senior advisor to the general manager/development for the Los Angeles Kings, doesn’t remember there being a plan for Bergeron to be one and done with the exhibition season.

“It was a huge mistake if that’s what we told him,” O’Connell told WEEI.com in a recent phone interview.

What O’Connell remembers is that Bergeron went from flying under the radar to being one of Boston’s best players, putting the team in a position where it had no choice but to keep him around.

“Your second pick, very rarely does your second pick make it out of training camp. So … we were very lucky to draft him, but realistically, most likely he was going to go back to junior,” O’Connell said. “So he shows up for training camp, first day, he’s really good. He’s good for the second day, third day, fourth day of rookie camp. And then the veterans come in and every day you make an assessment about your players and every day Patrice was very good.

“And the veterans came in, he was very good. Exhibition games start, he was very good. And when you’re in management, a kid comes in, or some player regardless of what age they are, and they’re one of your best players every night, what kind of message are you sending to your team if you send him back to junior or to the minors?

“Because the players know who can play and who can’t play before the management who are watching. Because you play with these guys, you see what they do, you see the subtleties of the game, which you don’t see quite as clearly when you’re sitting upstairs.”

Bergeron’s excellent training camp ultimately led to him making the team. Bergeron’s parents flew down to witness his regular-season debut, and pretty soon he was rubbing elbow pads with future Hall of Famers.

“I was just amazed by Niedermayer’s skating ability, just to get out of danger or whatever, and couldn’t really get to him,” Bergeron recalled. “And then Stevens, I was trying to stay away from him. I knew all about him so I was trying to obviously play the right way but obviously I had a lot of respect for him.”

Bergeron played 71 games as a rookie, and one contest in particular convinced Bruins management he was a star in the making. The Bruins were in Philadelphia and Bergeron was tasked with facing Peter Forsberg, who was coming off a 106-point season with Colorado.

“It was eye-opening,” O’Connell said. “He’s still a first-year player and it was eye-opening at what he did to one of the best players in the league at that time. And how he controlled him and how it just was like ‘wow’ and eye-opening. And I think from that point on was when we realized we had a special player and we were very fortunate to have him.”

Through all the turmoil the Bruins as an organization have experienced, through his serious concussion issues, and through the regular ups and downs of a professional sports career, Bergeron is now on the doorstep of a rare milestone in franchise history.

The four-time Selke Trophy winner and 2011 Stanley Cup champion, still just 33 years old, may add more to his impressive resume. But already there’s no doubt his career will end how it started – together with Niedermayer, Stevens and Brodeur, but this time at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

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