Finally crowned as Bruins captain, Patrice Bergeron’s leadership has always gone far beyond on-ice accomplishments

Courtesy of Boston Bruins

What marks the true measure of a leader?

Is it drawn from whatever's etched on your resume? Because if so, Patrice Bergeron's record speaks for itself.

1,089 games played — good for third all-time in Bruins franchise history.

869 points — ranking sixth in the Original Six franchise's record books.

42 playoff goals — many of which clinched series, decimated rivals up north and will be replayed and re-lived for years to come by those lucky enough to relish in this fruitful era of Bruins hockey.

4 Selke Trophies — tied for the most in NHL history.

2 Olympic Gold Medals — secured in Vancouver (2010) and Sochi (2014).

A King Clancy Trophy —awarded annually to the NHLer who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice.

A coveted spot on the venerable Triple Gold Club.

And ... of course — a Stanley Cup championship with Boston.

But when it comes to gauging the qualities and measures that set apart those who eventually take the helm of a locker room, tangible hardware and lofty stats are far from the main determinant.

And if you ask his many teammates over the years, it is often Bergeron's off-ice actions that resonate more than any of the countless accomplishments he's compiled on skates.

“Being in the West when he was in the East, there was a little bit of appreciation, but you didn’t get to see him as frequently," David Backes said back in March 2019. "Being on the same team with him every day to see what he does behind the scenes, the way he works ... He’s a guy, if you had to start a team, if he’s not first on your list, I’d be pretty impressed with who else you’re putting in front of him.”

It's those actions — ranging from the spirited pregame addresses ahead of a playoff bouts to the casual check-ins with timid rookies — that have served as a staple of Bergeron's 17-year career with the Bruins, and a testament to the role the 35-year-old center has embraced after being molded by other on-ice leaders from Martin Lapointe to Mark Recchi to Zdeno Chara.

As such, it came as no surprise on Thursday morning when Bergeron was formally appointed as the 20th captain in Bruins franchise history — serving as a tangible stamp on the duties that the pivot had already executed for years while serving alongside Chara in Boston's locker room.

"He's been meant to be a captain 10 years ago," his longtime winger, Brad Marchand, said Thursday afternoon. "So it's been a long time coming."

For as much as Bergeron is often more than willing to let some of his more loquacious teammates offer up the postgame soundbites following a win, the veteran often finds the right time to make his voice heard.

"When he talks, you listen," Charlie McAvoy said of Bergeron earlier this year.

In game settings, Bergeron's words often carry added weight, such as his passionate speech ahead of Boston's Game 6 matchup against the Blues in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. With Boston teetering on the brink of a heartbreaking end to its spirited Cup run, Bergeron's impassioned words — still a mystery to those outside of the room — hit on all the right notes for a team that kept its season alive that night by way of a 5-1 victory in St. Louis.

“He’s a legend,” Jake DeBrusk said of Bergeron following the win. “I don’t know if he wants me to necessarily repeat them. They weren’t bad words. It was just about what we all dream about doing. We’re here for a reason and everyone who plays hockey grows up and dreams of playing in this moment. To see him kind of set the tone that way — it made us want to run through a wall.”

But the actions that define Bergeron are not just limited to bombastic speeches inside of a locker room. Community and inclusion have served as a bedrock of the culture that Bergeron has helped foster for close to two decades now, with the future Hall of Famer going out of his way to provide his cell number for new Bruins prospects looking for advice, and regularly checking in on how his teammates are faring away from the game.

It was through those small-talk interactions that Bergeron connected with waiver pickup Gemel Smith back in December 2018, convincing the forward to seek help through sports psychology after battling with depression — a struggle that Bergeron himself dealt with while recovering from the severe concussion he suffered back in 2007 due to a dangerous hit from Randy Jones.

"It's kind of just everyday stuff, even little things," Charlie Coyle said of Bergeron. "Just saying hi to you, checking in on you. 'How's life? How's things?' Younger guys, older guys, it doesn't matter. He treats everyone the same. And that's what you need in a leader. Guys who make everyone feel welcome. ... He knows when the time is right to say something, wanting to just show by example, he's been around the block."

Sometimes, Bergeron's actions require him to say very little at all.

It can be something as simple as logging that extra set in the gym, or setting aside some extra time post-practice to finetune his shot. Or it can be something as compelling as continuing to fight through a car-crash complication of injuries during the 2013 Cup Final, with Bergeron eventually sent to the hospital after playing with a separated right shoulder, punctured lung, broken rib and torn rib cartilage. Whatever they are, these actions are duly noted by those who Bergeron surrounds himself with on this Boston club.

 "It was almost scary," Marchand said of the 2013 Cup Final. "Being beside him on the bench watching what he was going through, you didn't know if he was — you could tell he was in complete pain. And you didn't even know if he was going to make it through the game. It just shows what he's willing to sacrifice and willing to put his body through to win. I mean, you feed off that stuff, that's contagious. And it's why is one of the best players to play the game."

For Marchand, who has seen his role changed from fourth-line grinder — to Bergeron's pesky understudy —  to franchise winger — over his years in Boston, Bergeron is often his go-to target of commendation, given how following his center's habits put him on his road to success. It's a path that the next wave of Bruins talent has also taken over the years, whether it be the likes of David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy and even a potential heir apparent down the road in Jack Studnicka. 

"It was more consistently seeing every single day, how he carries himself as a person, as a professional," Marchand said of Bergeron's influence on him. "How he tries to get better, that was more what really made a huge difference in my career. ... You get to that point where everybody's like, 'Alright, we did enough today' and he just blows right through that and puts himself through even more pain just to continue to get better and better.  It's a mindset that takes years to build and years to learn. I've been fortunate enough to be beside him for that long that it's worn off on me. I try to be like him every day, even still — just a mindset of being positive and accepting everything that we're going through and just rolling with it and not getting down or complaining."

Of course, Bergeron's track record as an individual that leads by example goes far beyond the impact he has on his Bruins teammates.

Once a fresh-faced teen who could barely speak English while coasting down the Zakim Bridge on a Zamboni, Bergeron has fully entrenched himself within the local community, founding the Patrice's Pals program back in 2006 —brings patients from local hospitals and other children's organizations to TD Garden to watch a Bruins game in person. He's spearheaded the Bruins annual holiday toy shopping event for years now, providing toys for 600+ children at hospitals around Boston who are unable to spend the holidays at home.  Along with hosting the team's annual Cuts for a Cause event and Pucks and Paddles ping-pong tournament, Bergeron was a regular participant in holiday treks to local children's hospitals in the Boston area — even taking part in a pair of virtual Zoom visits in October and December 2020.

On a national scale, Bergeron spoke out in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis back in May — announcing $25,000 donations to both the Boston branch of the NAACP and the Centre Multiethnique de Quebec.

Whatever the action may be — big or small, silent or reverberant — they tend to resonate far beyond whatever digits can be scribbled into a stat book when it comes to sizing up Bergeron's legacy in Boston.

“He never has a limit,” Marchand said. “There’s no ceiling for that guy. For him to continue to get better, especially as he’s getting older, he just keeps getting better. He becomes a better leader, a better player. Those guys who continually break through the ceiling and continue to set new heights for themselves and new goals and continue to blow through them, those are always the guys that are top leaders. That’s him to a T."

For Bergeron, a "C" on his sweater means very little in terms of how his mindset changes moving forward with this franchise. For him, leadership is not something born out of individual accomplishments, but rather forged through years of collaboration with other like-minded individuals. As much as his feats will be immortalized one day with a No. 37 hanging high above the Garden ice, Bergeron will be the first one to loft praise upon others for their role in making him the player he is today.

"To me, it's to be myself. I think leadership is all about making sure you're able to surround yourself with great people — which I am," Bergeron said. "And also, being able to connect with guys and speak from the heart when it's needed. Lead by example. I don't think I'm gonna change any of that stuff. I think I'm going to try to communicate and make sure we connect as a team and we create something special moving forward. I think there's a culture that's been established here for many years. And there's been tremendous and amazing leaders and captains over the years. And Zee obviously was one of those guys, where there's been a culture that's been in place, and we're gonna try to carry that on."

Par for the course, Bergeron spent most of Thursday's Zoom conference focusing on the team or others — rather than himself — when it came to discussing his role in ushering in this next chapter of Bruins history. It shouldn't come as a surprise.

After all, that's how he's always been.

And that's what leaders do.