He’s felt the same darkness, the same loneliness, trudged along the same interminable road back.
But that’s only part of the reason why no one outside Sidney Crosby’s immediate family is happier to see the Pittsburgh Penguins captain on the ice than Boston Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron.
The 26-year-old Bergeron and 24-year-old Crosby are good friends and former Team Canada teammates, and Bergeron was among those who took it upon themselves to keep the NHL’s best player’s spirits up during his recovery from concussion.
“I think it helps to make you feel better, to be able to talk to guys who have gone through it. I spoke to Eric Lindros, Michel Goulet. I talked to a lot of players. Everyone’s experience is different but you can learn and receive advice,” Bergeron said before his Bruins took on the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre here.
“When I went through it I kept the phone pretty far away, which is why I figured it was best to shoot a text once in a while to say I was there for him, and I wanted to support him.”
Bergeron knows what it’s like to sit out for the equivalent of an entire season waiting for the mists of concussion to clear, and he was prescient about his friend’s ability to return undiminished – Crosby had two goals and two assists Monday in the Pens’ 5-0 win over the New York Islanders.
“Everyone’s different. I’m sure he’s done all the right things to come back and feel 100 per cent. He’s a great player, a special player. You never know, I don’t think anyone should be hard on him if that happens, but he’s such a great player anything can happen,” he said.
Boston coach Claude Julien said it took Bergeron “at least half a season” to regain his timing and preconcussion comfort level, but since suffering concussions in 2007 and 2008, Bergeron has won an Olympic gold medal with Team Canada and helped lead his team to the Stanley Cup.
“I don’t know exactly how long, but it took me a while to get the timing and rhythm and all that stuff back,” he said. “You want to come back and be the same player and feel the same way you used to the year before. The game still goes on, you’re not involved, you’re not in it, and obviously you need to get back to it and feeling good about it.”
Bergeron didn’t figure in the scoring on Monday as the Bruins extended their win streak to nine games by beating the Canadiens 1-0. Tim Thomas earned his third shutout of the year. Andrew Ference’s first-period wrist shot past Carey Price’s outstretched glove stood as the winner as the Habs squandered multiple chances including a four-minute penalty to former Canadiens forward Benoît Pouliot.
But few would argue that the Game 7 hero from the Stanley Cup final last season isn’t one of Boston’s most influential and inspirational forwards.
He and Crosby may have met for mostly alphabetical reasons – they roomed together at Canada’s world junior team camp in 2004 – but in the intervening years Crosby and Bergeron forged their friendship on a couple of gold medal winning teams.
The Bruins forward also mistakenly ended up with the most famous hockey glove in Canadian Olympic history in his bag after the Vancouver 2010 Games – having occupied the stall next to Crosby in the Team Canada dressing room, one of the gloves he wore while scoring the golden goal was mistakenly shipped to Boston.
Bergeron also knows whereof he speaks when it comes to concussions.
A year after he and Crosby played together for Canada at the 2006 world championships, as linemates, Bergeron was crunched into the boards from behind in Philadelphia by Randy Jones of the Flyers.
It was 362 days before he suited up again. And two months into the 2008-09 season, he collided with Florida Panthers defenceman Dennis Seidenberg – the two are now teammates – and was concussed again.
“Frustration is the biggest thing, you’ve got to be patient and try to be positive in the whole process,” Bergeron said.
If the Bruins are able to count on Bergeron, they haven’t been as lucky with one of his teammates.
Centre Marc Savard played just 25 games last season before suffering a concussion, and his career is likely over – for every player that recovers, several more don’t emerge.
“It’s been a while since we heard from him,” Bergeron said.