Late in the recently retired Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron’s rookie season in 2003-04, the late Russ Conway turned to me after former Boston Bruins captain Joe Thornton turned the puck over in the offensive zone and said:
“What would Patrice Bergeron do there, Murph?”
I promptly said, ‘Not that!’ Russ promptly agreed and told me why. Anyone who has watched Bergeron since then knows why.
He then described what Bergeron, who arguably became the best two-way forward in NHL history, would do in that situation. Here was this hall of fame puck scribe – and the man rescued Bobby Orr and so many NHL players from their corrupt NHL agent Allen Eagleson – already using the then-18-year-old rookie Bergeron as an example of what the then-24-year-old Thornton should’ve done. Yes, that’s Joe Thornton, who was drafted first overall by the Boston Bruins in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft six years before the Bruins drafted this then-lanky kid from L’Ancienne Lorette, Quebec, with the 45th overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
Just under two years later, and only two months after they had made Thornton the 18th captain in franchise history, the Bruins traded Thornton to the San Jose Sharks for forwards Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau and defenseman Brad Stuart. Thornton would win the Hart Trophy that season and become one of the best playmakers in NHL history. No one can argue that the Boston Bruins didn’t get hosed in that trade, but they also lucked out because it indirectly paved the way for Bergeron to become a top center for the Bruins and, like Thornton, a future Hall of Famer.
Up until he passed away in August 2019, Russ would frequently ask me ‘What would Patrice Bergeron do?’ not just when another NHL player didn’t live up to the on-ice standard of the record six-time Selke Trophy winner but also when maybe I wasn’t living up to the standard Bergeron set off the ice. Based on the league-wide and social media-wide response when Bergeron retired last Tuesday, plenty of us could ask ourselves that question when faced with a dilemma or crossroads.
“It’s incredible what type of person he was. He was truly a better person than he was as a hockey player,” Hall of Famer and Bergeron’s former linemate from the 2011 Stanley Cup team told me on the latest Murphy’s Hockey Law Podcast.
“He exemplifies what a National Hockey League player should look like on and off the ice. He’s an incredible person; he was an incredible hockey player. He was just an amazing teammate, and he’s an amazing family guy as well. He deserves everything he will get and will be a first-time Hall of Fame ballot.”
Watching the tribute the Boston Bruins posted from Bergeron’s most recent teammates, one could see they have, do, and will always ask, “What would Patrice Bergeron do?”
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) July 27, 2023
Just months after Russ passed away in August 2019, one of my closest friends, Jeff Pilibosian, had been battling brain cancer for over a year, which, as expected, had taken a toll on him and his family. I was at practice when I learned that Jeff needed more chemo, and I teared up with tears of joy. Bergeron noticed, and I explained what I had just found out. A week later, former Boston Bruins media relations director Brandon McNelis texted me a video with Bergeron urging Jeff to keep on fighting and that he and the team were pulling for him.
Later in his battle with cancer, Bergeron invited Jeff, his wife, and two sons in to meet the team after practice, and the smile on their faces when they met Bergeron and almost every single player was palpable. Bergeron didn’t do that for attention. It wasn’t a team-organized event or an obligation to the various charities he and the team partnered with. He did it because that’s what Patrice Bergeron does.
It should be noted that Jeff beat the cancer, but then it came back. However, it appears he’s thankfully about to beat it again.
I’ve always done my best to maintain objectivity as a reporter, and regardless of personal relationships with the players I have covered, I’ll tell it like it is. I wrote that if Patrice Bergeron had the rare lousy game and explained why. My objectivity has been a detriment in recent years because there’s some misconception that the media should paint a positive, woo-hoo picture even when that’s not the case. I have not, I don’t, and I will never do that, but I also won’t be afraid to ask myself, as Russ did when needed:
“What would Patrice Bergeron do?”