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Patrice Bergeron Was Unhateable

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 30: Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins hugs Brad Marchand #63 before exiting the ice after Florida Panthers defeat the Bruins 4-3 in overtime of Game Seven of the First Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 30, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

I wanted to hate Patrice Bergeron so badly. The recipe was there. A world-class player on a team that was not my team. On the damn Bruins. A guy who would always manage to ruin my team's shit, effortlessly breaking up a rush or putting himself in the exact spot to make defenders look like they just learned the sport, and quite often doing the latter immediately after the former. Scoring big goals in big moments, and enjoying unprecedented individual glory amid a long string of team success. Raising a Stanley Cup—for the Bruins. I wanted a crane to fall on Milan Lucic. I wanted and want Brad Marchand to step into an open manhole. I should've hated this man too, and I never did. I don't think anyone around the league did, or could. There was too much reverence to leave room for that.

Bergeron announced his retirement Tuesday at age 38 and after 19 seasons, because he's had enough and not because he had nothing left. He was a true and dangerous 1C and franchise centerpiece even in his final year, and we will not see his like for a long, long time. He was an elite scorer, ninth in points since entering the league, and though that would be enough to make him a superstar, it wasn't even half his game. "Elite" doesn't begin to cover what he did on the other end. "Elite" describes the also-rans angling for the role of best defensive forward, Non-Him Division. He was the best defensive forward, perhaps, to ever skate the earth. He won six Selkes and was a finalist for 12 straight. To have the stamina and the two-way instincts to cover 200 feet every night, at that level, would be scarcely believable if we hadn't seen it. Oh, and he never took penalties, and dominated faceoffs, and was a locker-room leader, and you never ever heard a bad word about him from opponents or teammates. The closest anyone could get to hating him was a resentment that his impeccability made everyone else's flaws stand out clearly.

The great ones have a sort of gravitational pull to them, and the spacetime of the ice bent toward Bergeron. Pucks seemed to funnel his way, both in the way his wings would find him for the finish and the way opposing attacks found his stick to die. His outsized presence—you could never not know when and where he was on the ice at all times—caused havoc at its fringes. He'd clamp down on a rush or jump a passing lane, and his linemates would be free to head off to the races. Or a defenseman would put a body on him just to be safe, making space for another Bruin. Therein was his magic: If you had Patrice Bergeron, it didn't matter who else you had—you had a top line that could hang with anyone on both ends. Boston was often blessed to have excellent talent to put alongside him, but he remained a rock through constant roster turnover. The Bruins made the playoffs in 15 of his 19 seasons; he was a one-man cheat code to having a good team, in a sport where you can count on one hand the number of forwards with that power.

The nature of his game doesn't lend itself to highlight reels. There was very little flash and a whole lot of quiet competence. His Cup-clinching goal in 2011 is a fine example of that: Bergeron wins a faceoff, heads to the net, and takes care of his business, breaking Vancouver hearts. He'd step on those hearts and grind his blade in a period later, jumping the play a full second before anyone else recognized what was happening, then sticking with it while being brought down to score a shorthanded goal that set the engravers to work. He was coming off a concussion in that series; when the Bruins returned to the Cup Final two years later, he played through a broken nose, a separated shoulder, a cracked rib, and a punctured lung. A hockey guy's hockey guy.

He's got the ring, and an Olympic gold, and a Worlds gold, one of just 30 players in history to complete the trifecta. Before long they'll retire his number in Boston, and put him in the Hall of Fame, and rename the Selke after him. He is, to put it simply but not in the least hyperbolically, the most respected player of his generation. But maybe I can find a way to hate him in the end. I hate that every game he played for two full decades made me wonder, Why can't we have a guy like Patrice Bergeron?

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