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Patrice Bergeron said he is humbled to be named the Bruins 20th captain. “There have been some tremendous captains and leaders along the way and some legends of the game,” he said.  Matt Slocum/Associated Press

 

There is not much that the changing of a letter on Patrice Bergeron’s sweater from an “A” to a “C” will do to elevate his standing with his teammates. Zdeno Chara, now the former captain, had even gone so far as to refer to Bergeron as his co-captain in recent years.

The man who would follow in Chara’s footsteps was an obvious choice for anyone who’s paid the least bit of attention to the Boston Bruins over the past 15 seasons.

But there is something special in the sport of hockey, more than any others, about wearing the “C”. That was not lost on Bergeron, who spoke to reporters after the club’s social media announcement (the COVID-era’s version of pomp and pageantry). He not only follows Chara as the Bruins 20th captain in franchise history, but also men like Ray Bourque, Johnny Bucyk and Milt Schmidt.

“It’s very humbling, a huge honor,” said Bergeron. “There have been some tremendous captains and leaders along the way and some legends of the game. It’s an absolute honor and I’m going to try to keep bettering myself and keep learning. But also I’m going to try to be me. I think that’s all I can really do, and try and connect with my teammates. It’s an historic franchise that’s done so much and to be a part of and to actually be named captain is something very special.”

It may not have been obvious that this day was going to come when he was a shy 18-year-old in 2003 still getting comfortable with speaking English, but it was clear from the get-go he could play. The 45th overall pick in the previous June’s draft, Bergeron made the team out of his first training camp and never looked back, but there were some character-building bumps along the way.

Because of the season-long lockout, he played in Providence the entire 2004-05 season and embraced the experience, learning more how to become a pro and getting a chance to play center. The next season was a lost year for the organization, one that saw the trading of Joe Thornton and the firing of GM Mike O’Connell. But Bergeron’s potential flowered, as he posted 31 goals and 42 assists.

But the next year he suffered a career-threatening concussion that wiped out his whole season. The experience shaped his career path.

“Things happen for a reason. I believe in that,” he said. “I had something to learn. Maybe it was to appreciate the game even more. You appreciate it when you’re in February and it’s game 50 or whatever. And that was the year that hockey kind of got away from me for a full year. That was very difficult, and it made me realize how much I love it. It’s more than just a game to me, it’s really a passion.”

His reputation as a heart-and-soul player was solidified with his teammates in the 2013 Stanley Cup run. During the playoffs, Bergeron had suffered torn rib cartilage, a broken rib, separated shoulder and punctured lung that landed him in the hospital for three days after the Bruins Game 6 loss. He played through it all.

“As a teammate, watching a guy put himself through the pain and discomfort he was clearly going through, it was very impressive,” said his long-time linemate and now alternate captain Brad Marchand. “He has all the attributes of a phenomenal leader, one and off the ice. He was meant to be a captain 10 years ago.”

Bergeron mentioned former teammates like Andrew Ference, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton from whom he learned, but three have stood out. Marty Lapointe, who invited Bergeron to live with his family during his rookie season, taught him about accountability and how to be a professional. Mark Recchi “helped me find my voice.” And Chara impressed him for the demanding culture that he created.

Bergeron said his approach to being a captain is to take everything he’s learned and be himself, while utilizing the communication skills he’s developed over the years.

“It’s about connecting with the guys and having them realize that this is their team and to take ownership of that and making sure they’re a big part of the team,” said Bergeron. “Everyone is important and is valued.”

For Bergeron, it should not be hard. Alternate captain David Krejci said Bergeron was already viewed by teammates as a captain.

“You can’t say enough about this guy,” said Krejci. “You know he has your back. We need to have his back as well and try to make it a fun year for him as first-year captain.”

TRAINING CAMP: Marchand, who underwent hernia surgery, did not participate in Thursday’s scrimmage as a precaution. His first full of practice was Tuesday and he didn’t want to push it….  Nick Ritchie had a decent scrimmage, beating Daniel Vladar on a pretty backhander. Coach Bruce Cassidy also singled out Urho Vaakanainen, one of three young defenseman vying for a job, as having caught his eye. … Matt Filipe, a free-agent signee, beat Tuukka Rask on a breakaway. … The Bruins will scrimmage again on Friday, with the roster being pared down to regular season size as early as Sunday…  Krejci, heading into the final year of his contract, reiterated that he has no plans to retire but hasn’t had any contract talk extensions. “With COVID, there’s obviously more important things than me talking about an extension right now,” said Krejci.

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