Bergeron scores 300th goal, Flashback to 2nd Olympic gold

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Patrice Bergeron is Boston’s “Mr Everything” (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

After missing the last 16 games to injury, Patrice Bergeron showed zero signs of rust, promptly scoring the first 2 goals of his team’s Saturday matinee against the struggling Nashville Predators, and adding an assist (here’s hoping the NHL properly credits him with a 2nd helper on David Pastrnak’s 2-on-1 dagger goal to make it 4-2) to lead his team to another key win, as the Boston Bruins roster is slowly getting healthy again.

The second tally, which put his team up 2-1 briefly early in the third period, was the 300th career NHL for the 45th overall draft pick in the storied 2003 NHL Draft. He’s still looking for his 1,000th career game in the Black & Gold- a quest derailed by 1.5 lockouts, nearly an entire season lost in 2007-08 on a Randy Jones hit from behind and numerous other setbacks that have taken a physical toll on Boston’s Mr. Everything.

300 goals in a Bruins uniform.

As the esteemed Kevin Paul Dupont pointed out, he’s only the sixth player in team history to accomplish that feat. B’s 300 club members (by order of goal totals): Johnny Bucyk, Phil Esposito, Rick MiddletonRaymond Bourque and Cam Neely. If you know anything about Bruins team history, then you know that’s quite an esteemed group to be a part of…Boston hockey’s very own League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And just think how much sooner Bergeron would have hit the scoring milestone had he not missed so many games over the years.

Don’t tell him he’s 33, either- he shows no sign of slowing down. Even if he loses a step in his skating, which was never elite to begin with, he’s such an intelligent player with a sublime set of mitts, that it’s hard to envision his game going off a cliff all at once.

Enjoy his excellence while you can- he’s one of the greatest players in franchise history, and nothing lasts forever.

Here’s a trip down memory lane going back to the 2014 Winter Olympics when Bergeron was still on the right side of 30 and had just helped Team Canada to a second consecutive gold medal.

You can’t say it enough- when he walks away from NHL ice for the last time as a player, he’ll have built one hell of a legacy. It’s pretty damn fine today at the end of 2018…what more is in store for us?

Enjoy the ride!

Here’s a re-posting of an article I wrote in New England Hockey Journal in February, 2014- K.L.

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Man with the Golden Gun: Patrice ‘Mr. Everything’ Bergeron nearing Perfection

Perfection is not a word taken lightly.

Using it to describe any athlete or performance, no matter how sublime, threatens to cheapen its meaning. When using it to describe one Patrice Bergeron-Cleary, there aren’t many other roads you can travel that won’t lead you back to perfection in its purest form.

“Whatever it takes, right?” Bergeron said to NBC’s Pierre McGuire after a two-assist performance over Norway to kick off the schedule. “I’m just happy to be here, trying to chip in any way I can. Whether it’s the right side, the left side, it doesn’t matter to me.”

That’s as close to perfect an answer you will get from the veteran Boston Bruins heart and soul center, who also just captured his second Olympic gold medal at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. If they didn’t know it already, proud Canadians and hockey fans around the globe are certainly coming to grips with the importance of the man teammates and coaches call “Mr. Everything”.

With Canada’s third Olympic triumph in four iterations going back to 2002, it seems to strain the bounds of credulity to realize that Bergeron has been such an integral part of multiple championships beyond Olympic competition.

“(Bergeron) deserves very much to be honored correctly,” B’s teammate Torey Krug said via email after Canada captured gold to close out the winter games. “He is the most honest guy I have ever met and that’s what makes him special. When he comes to the rink, he’s honest with himself in terms of effort and his mentality. He never takes a day off.”

In many ways, Bergeron’s hockey stardom defies logic. Nearly eleven years ago, he was completely passed up in the first round of the NHL draft in Nashville because scouts felt he wasn’t big enough or fast enough. A few months later, he broke camp with the Bruins a little over 60 days after he turned 18 precisely because he proved he was.

Back then, Bergeron was a shy teenager who spoke fluent if heavily accented English, but he sure could speak the language of an impact player from the get go. Some things may have evolved over the decade-plus he’s skated for the Black and Gold, but what absolutely has not changed is his disciplined approach and sheer presence as part of any winning formula.

“I think that a lot of what I do is natural,” a 17-year-old Bergeron said in the very first sit down interview he did with New England Hockey Journal at the 2003 NHL draft. “But I always work and prove my place. I think that (vision/hockey sense) is natural, but the other parts of the game have to come when you work hard. It’s like when you learn on the job and as you work more, you get more confident and better at your job. With me, it’s the same thing.”

He came into the NHL a virtual unknown as the league’s youngest player in the 2003-04 campaign, but was a world champion before he turned 19. Team Canada saw enough to add him to the 2004 World Championship roster after the NHL rookie’s B’s were unceremoniously dumped by the hated Montreal Canadiens (and his current bench boss, Claude Julien if that doesn’t beat all) in the first round.

A little more than six months later, the 2004-05 NHL lockout meant that Bergeron was adding a World Jr. Championship title (and tournament MVP honors) to his resume, the first player ever to win a hockey senior world championship before doing the under-20 thing that so many of the elite NHL players go through before they become pros.

He stands for so much more than the on-ice success he’s enjoyed since first stepping foot in the TD Garden dressing room. If not for Zdeno Chara, Bergeron would be unequivocally wearing the captain’s ‘C’ in Boston, but his humility, inner fire and unimpeachable credentials make him the ideal alternate, and heir apparent to the B’s captaincy when that day eventually comes.

“If he’s feeling down he doesn’t get too down,” Krug said. “If he’s confident and on a roll he doesn’t get too high. He pushes himself and it forces other guys to do the same if they want to stay and compete at the level he is at.”

When Bergeron became the youngest player in team history to hit the 30-goal mark at 20, he appeared poised to become one of the club’s top snipers. A crushing hit from behind by Philadelphia defenseman Randy Jones a little over a year later nearly ended Bergeron’s career, but when he returned during the 2008-09 season, he reinvented himself as one of the NHL’s purest defensive centers.

Since then, all Bergeron has done is won an Olympic gold medal on home soil in Vancouver despite a nagging groin injury that left him a shell of himself. Oh, and then there’s that encore he had in the same town in the spring of 2011, when he hoisted the Stanley Cup over his head along with the rest of his Bruins mates, bringing hockey championship mana to Boston for the first time in 39 years.

For good measure, Bergeron added a Spengler Cup to his trophy case during last season’s lockout when he was playing in Switzerland alongside former B’s teammate Tyler Seguin. Hosted by Swiss team HC Davos just after Christmas each year and considered the world’s oldest invitational hockey tournament, Bergeron’s made the most of his presence on Team Canada, thanks to another round of NHL labor strife.

Whether you need the ultimate team award like Lord Stanley’s chalice or a pair of Olympic gold medals, or an individual accolade like the Frank J. Selke Trophy, which Bergeron won in 2012 for being the NHL’s top defensive forward, the 28-year-old has already delivered one hundredfold that other players have spent many more years trying in vain to achieve. Multiple championships are the closest thing to perfection we have in the world of team sports, and Bergeron is among the best.

If there’s been a recent blemish on Bergeron’s fantastical hockey resume, one could point to last spring’s defeat by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, a true black-and-blue series that saw the Boston alternate captain exceed any sane threshold for pain to compete.

Broken rib… check. Separated shoulder…check. Collapsed lung…check. Yet, instead of checking into the ICU, he very nearly willed his team to victory with one of the grittiest, most productive finals performances in team history.

So, even when the a-ha! Sherlock Holmes moment comes when you might say that Patrice Bergeron is indeed imperfect, he still did everything humanly possible to debunk that notion. As fine a player Bergeron is, in hockey, you can’t go it alone.

“He brings the same thing to the table every game, whether were playing last place team or playing in the finals,” said Krug. “His honesty has influenced everyone in the locker room. He could be a top scorer in the NHL but he chooses to be a bigger part of the puzzle on one of the most consistent teams in the league.”

Nearly 11 years after the B’s used the 45th overall compensation pick they took from the NHL to allow Bill Guerin to walk away to Big D and collect a $9 million payday on Bergeron, Boston’s payoff has been astounding.

The team not only has reaped the rewards of his presence and individual play as Bergeron continues his climb within the top-20 of the team’s all-time leading scorers, but he helped lead them to a Stanley Cup championship, a two-goal Game 7 showing in 2011 a fitting coda to how important he is. It’s why they refused to even let him reach free agency, locking him up for another seven years last summer when he had a full year remaining on his existing deal signed back before that magical return to glory three years ago.

Mr. Everything? To some B’s fans, he just might be the only thing that prevented USA’s big flameout in Sochi from being any more disappointing.

But even with another gold medal to go with the others and a Stanley Cup ring, Bergeron knows how agonizing it was to get so close to winning a second ring only to come up short.

And if Mr. Everything has his way, the only fitting follow up to an Olympic triumph would be raising another Stanley Cup banner in Boston next October.

That would be perfect.

Nifty’s nifty night in Boston

Middleton retirement

(Image courtesy of NHL.com)

It took a shootout and winning goal on the fourth iteration from rookie Ryan Donato to secure a 2-1 victory for the Bruins against the NY Islanders (Brad Marchand tallied Boston’s lone regulation goal) but the home team closed out a special night in which one of the franchise’s greats had his number 16 officially retired.

Richard D. “Rick” Middleton, known around the Boston Garden as “Nifty” from 1976-88, saw his digits raised to the rafters in a nice pre-game ceremony. The former Oshawa Generals great and first-round draft pick of the NY Rangers was acquired in one of longtime B’s GM Harry Sinden’s heists, sending veteran Ken Hodge to Broadway to rejoin his pal Phil Esposito for the electrifying but inconsistent Middleton, who was still figuring out how to be a pro hockey player in the Big Apple.

It didn’t take Middleton long to figure it out, and he became one of Boston’s true hockey stars in the late 70’s and 80’s. Although often lost in the mix when it comes to Bruins greats over the years, Nifty would end up making three trips to the Stanley Cup finals during his Bruins tenure, and he was a member of the 1979 B’s squad that experienced devastation and heartbreak in Montreal in the infamous “too many men on the ice” game 7. He’s the most recent Bruin to win a Lady Byng Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most gentlemanly player, earned after the 1981-82 season.

In the early 80’s Middleton was the linchpin at forward for some very good Bruins teams, but they unfortunately ran into the NY Islanders dynasty.

What could have been a storybook ending for Middleton’s NHL career ended in a sweep by the Edmonton Oilers in the 1988 Stanley Cup final, but on the way, Nifty exorcised some Canadiens demons by being on the first B’s team to beat the Habs since World War Two was ongoing. Middleton’s breakaway game-winning goal in Game 3 at the Garden may be one of his most iconic moments in Boston; although he wore a Jofa helmet and no longer had the long golden locks that flowed behind his helmetless head when he got up to speed for so many seasons, the “old man” still had it and scored one of the most symbolic goals of his career.

Middleton didn’t make it into the Hockey Hall of Fame and in all honesty- he likely never will. But, for a lad growing up watching the Bruins, there was something magical about him. People can grumble about the team retiring his number if they want, but for those of us who saw him in his prime, elevating his play year after year in the midst of the Firewagon Hockey era of the late 70’s and 80’s, Nifty belongs in the rafters.

Thanks to Tuukka Rask’s excellent play in net, and Donato’s slick deke and tuck of the puck inside the post for the winning score- a move that no doubt made Mr. Middleton smile- one nifty, nifty night (to coin a phrase from Jack Edwards) ended the way it should have: 2 more points in the bank and one of Boston’s classiest and more unappreciated stars honored the right way.

81-82 Rick Middleton Home Sandow Mesh 004

Here’s the Middleton retirement ceremony highlight video- published on YouTube by the NHL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOCyB2wj6b4

 

 

 

 

 

On Rick Middleton’s No. 16 going to the rafters

81-82 Rick Middleton Home Sandow Mesh 004

The Boston Bruins announced Tuesday that Richard D. Middleton aka Rick Middleton aka ‘Nifty’ the right wing who starred for the team from 1976-88, will have his number 16 retired in a game later this November (29th- vs the NY Islanders). The longtime New Hampshire resident and Bruins Alumni fixture is deeply touched by the gesture, which comes three decades after he skated off into the sunset (more on that later).

The former Oshawa Generals star broke into the NHL with the NY Rangers, who selected him in the 1st round, 14th overall, in the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft. Middleton was also picked by the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the rival WHA that same year, going in the second round, 21st overall.

The trade is right up there with Cam Neely as one of former Bruins GM Harry Sinden’s best heists, sending the over-the-hill Ken Hodge to Broadway for the 22-year-old, who put up 90 points in two seasons with the Rangers. The catalyst for the deal was believed to be Phil Esposito, who was dealt to the Rangers the season before in a blockbuster, which sent Brad Park and Jean Ratelle to the B’s. Espo wanted his old (no pun intended) reliable right wing back, and Middleton was rumored to be a bit of a wild card off the ice…his -38 in 1975-76 certainly didn’t help.

So, Middleton headed off the Boston and after a couple of solid, if unspectacular years (by the standards of the 1970’s), he took off, posting 38, 40, 44, and 51-goal seasons from 1978-82. He peaked in 1984 with a 47-goal, 105-point year (finishing second to Barry Pederson’s 116 points) but the Boston offensive juggernaut was silenced in the opening round of the playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens and Steve Penney, who sent them out with a whimper in 3 games (no points for Nifty). The year before, Middleton had posted a playoff season for the ages (33 points in 17 games), leading the Bruins past two rounds of the playoffs including the memorable 7-game affair against Buffalo where he registered a team-record (for one series) 19 points. Unfortunately, the B’s ran into the NY Islanders dynasty in the spring of 1983. Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Billy Smith & Company dispatched them from the Wales Conference final in a series that never seemed that close, en route to a fourth consecutive Stanley Cup, leaving so many B’s fans to wonder…what if?

Middleton’s production steadily declined after that career 105-point campaign, due in part to age and injury, but he did preside over the historic defeat of the Montreal Canadiens in 1988, a first for any Bruins team since 1943. Middleton’s breakaway game-winner in Game 3 (2-0), to put the B’s up 2-1 in the series after splitting the games in Montreal was a fitting coda for a man who had been a part of so many heart-breaking losses to the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge during his entire Bruins tenure. He split the captaincy with Ray Bourque that year, wearing the ‘C’ for home games, until his retirement after the B’s were swept by Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers (their 4th NHL title since 1984) giving way to Bourque’s sole leadership from 1988 until his trade to Colorado in the spring of 2000.

As a child of the 70’s and 80’s, Nifty was an ubiquitous presence in my budding love of hockey and the Bruins. Although not a pure burner, his golden locks (later shiny pate as his hair thinned and ultimately gave way to a Jofa helmet late in his career) looked like they were on fire as he would bob and weave through the neutral and offensive zones, often putting on a display of stickhandling prowess at impossible angles and contortions, ending with pucks in the back of the net or sublime back-door feeds for gift-wrapped tap-ins for his lucky linemates. The Mike Krushelnyski-Pederson-Middleton line racked up 111 goals in 1983-84…a number that seems awe-inspiring some 35 years later.

Although Middleton’s scoring numbers paled in comparison to Gretzky’s (The Great One scored 100 more points than Middleton’s 105 in 83-84 just for perspective), or Mario Lemieux or Bossy to name a few, he was a veritable King Midas for the B’s, creating magic from the mundane and turning pucks into goals. But don’t take my word for it- Channel 38 once paid tribute to him with a highlight reel video now on YouTube to America’s “You Can Do Magic” and I had it recorded on VHS and must’ve watched it 1000 times…

Ignored by the Hockey Hall of Fame, 30 years after he retired, taking his number out of circulation is a welcome move for those who watched him (and maybe a good percentage of fans who didn’t, but who appreciate history). Sure- there are some who may be opposed to the honor (it is the 11th so number retired by the B’s) but that’s just a curmudgeonly nature of New Englanders at work- deep down, even the grumblers get it. After all- we’ve seen Peter Douris, Jozef Stumpel, Randy Robitaille, Ken Belanger, Marco Sturm and most recently, Kaspars Daugavins (in 2012-13), wear the digits in the intervening years. None hold the distinction and cachet Middleton did, and in the end- it’s just a number. It’s time to admit that he wore it well…better than anyone in the Black and Gold. As his 402 goals as a Bruin can attest, he could finish plays off just as easily as he set the table, and was the heir to Espo as the next pure scoring forward to put on the spoked B.

If the Bruins can take the time to honor for a player who grew up and matured in Boston as a model of consistency and was the face of the franchise at least up front for the better part of a decade, then why not?

It’s about time.