BOSTON – Nobody overcame more than Patrice Bergeron to earn a spot on Team Canada.
Less than two years ago, he was facing the possibility that his career might be over while sitting at home with a serious concussion. Even after eventually returning to the ice, it took time for him to regain his form and Bergeron was passed over for an invite to Canada’s summer orientation camp.
No wonder he was still beaming a full 24 hours after learning he’d be playing at the Vancouver Games.
“I’m proud of the way I came back,” Bergeron said Thursday. “I’m not saying that in a cocky way, I’m happy … that I stayed positive with myself, that I believed in myself, that I’ve learned through tough times. I’m just happy to be where I’m at now.”
Bergeron claims the Olympics weren’t really on his radar until recent weeks, when reporters started informing him that Steve Yzerman and his management staff seemed to be scouting a lot of Bruins games.
He received the official invite with a call from Kevin Lowe on Wednesday morning. That started a flood of action on his cellphone as the good wishes quickly poured in.
“I had to turn my phone off for my nap yesterday afternoon,” said Bergeron. “Friends, family, uncles, grandparents, everyone called. It means a lot to me.
“It was a lot of fun just to see all those calls. Just a great day.”
It was also the kind of day for him to reflect on where he’s been.
Two seasons ago, Bergeron played just 10 games after suffering a season-ending concussion on a hit from Philadelphia’s Randy Jones. It was a bleak period where he began having serious concerns about whether he’d ever be able to live a normal life again – let alone return to the NHL.
“I wasn’t able to do usual things,” said Bergeron. “Just walking around was giving me headaches and getting me dizzy. Watching TV, I couldn’t do that for a long time. There was a lot of things I couldn’t do.”
Bruins coach Claude Julien is quick to point out that Bergeron had turned the page on that chapter in his life before ever getting a call from Team Canada.
Julien chose instead to focus on this season, where Bergeron leads the team in scoring with 30 points (11-19) and has been a leader in the team’s dressing room.
“What he’s done this year for this hockey club is what got him the nod,” said Julien. “I mean, he’s played unbelievable for us and he’s been our best forward and our most consistent forward. You know, if I had to pick a team, if I was part of that committee, I would have taken him (too).
“Obviously, seeing him every day I know what he brings and the versatility that he has is huge for the Olympic team.”
It will be interesting to see how coach Mike Babcock ends up using Bergeron in Vancouver.
The 24-year-old has had success with Sidney Crosby in the past, lining up alongside No. 87 at both the 2005 world junior championship and 2006 IIHF World Hockey Championship. Bergeron certainly wouldn’t mind another opportunity to play with Canada’s top player.
“It would be amazing,” he said. “But whoever it is on that team, there’s so many good players, I’m just proud to be on the team. I’ll take any role on the team, it doesn’t matter what it is.”
One of the nicest tributes to Bergeron came from friend Simon Gagne, the Philadelphia Flyers winger that he skates with each summer in Quebec City.
Gagne played on the last two Canadian Olympic teams but was passed over this time after battling through several injuries of his own in recent years. Even still, Gagne was clearly thrilled that Bergeron was named to the 2010 roster.
“Before the injury, you could tell he was going to be good,” said Gagne. “He was always the best player on the ice. What the injury seemed to do is slow down his progress a bit, just as he was entering his prime. But now it seems he finally has reached (his potential).
“It’s a great story.”
The honour is one the Bruins take some pride in, too.
After watching Bergeron smile throughout an outdoor practice while snow fell at Fenway Park, general manager Peter Chiarelli couldn’t help but reflect on everything Bergeron has overcome.
“You know, seeing him in the hospital bed after this injury and seeing him just today when I was walking over here, he’s come full circle,” said Chiarelli. “Obviously, a credit to him. He worked really hard coming back. The mental demons that he had to go through with those types of injuries, I can’t even imagine what they were like. I know he had ups and downs.
“He’s a really hard-working individual, and you saw that in his rehab, very persistent, very determined the way he came back. I mean, he’s had a really good season and he deserves that Olympic team spot.”