By Robin Short
Vancouver – Three years after a concussion sidelined him for virtually the entire NHL season, an injury that forced him to wonder if he’d ever play again, Patrice Bergeron finds himself suiting up for Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Even better, Bergeron was skating on the team’s top line in practice Monday afternoon with Sidney Crosby and Rick Nash.
Just as the Russians looked crisp in practice before them, the Canadians hit the ice at Canada Hockey Place – the renamed GM Place– with a certain jump in their skates, their first get-together since the team arrived in Vancouver Sunday night.
They won’t have much time to sit around and take in the Olympic sites, however. The host country plays its first game 4:30 p.m. EST Tuesday against Norway.
In a room full of stars, from the Crosbys and Thorntons and Iginlas and Heatleys, Bergeron was considered somewhat of a dark horse to crack the deep and talented Canadian roster.
Consider the players left off Team Canada: 2006 Olympic veterans Martin St-Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, as well as Brad Richards, who’s enjoying a renaissance season.
Even the Boston Bruins’ winger admitted he was somewhat surprised to hear his name tossed about as the Dec. 30 team roster announcement drew close.
“It’s quite an honor,” he said Monday, “especially considering what I’ve been through.”
Ten games into the 2007-08 season, Bergeron was hit from into the boards and suffered a serious concussion. He was taken from the ice on a stretcher and hospitalized.
While his hospital stay didn’t last long, his recovery took months. There were days, with the nausea and headaches, when he wondered if he’d ever play again.
It was a tough pill to swallow for a kid who made Boston’s roster as an 18-year-old.
“Just getting back with the Bruins was a big question mark,” he said. “To play in the Olympics, well, that wasn’t even thought about.”
Canadian team coach Mike Babcock pushed for Bergeron in part because of the 24-year-old’s reliability and complete game.
There are bigger players than Bergeron, faster players, players with harder shots, but few who package it all together under one bow. That is, in part, the reason why he’s lining up with Crosby, Babcock said.
Another reason is the two have a history together, having played on Canada’s world junior championship team in 2005.
“He’s very dependable without the puck and he’s a good faceoff guy,” Babcock said of Bergeron, who has 12 goals and 37 points through 54 NHL games this season. “And that could free up Sid.
But Babcock cautioned not to read too much into line combinations.
“It’s only the first practice,” said the Red Wings coach, “so don’t get too carried away with things.”
And while Bergeron was, not surprisingly, pleased with his plum assignment on Day 1, he won’t be disappointed with any role assigned to him by Babcock.
“All the players here are great,” he said, “so to be playing with anyone would have been amazing.”