- James Murphy, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- Former Bruin and current Blackhawks pro scout Martin Lapointe has watched the Bruins' playoff run with a little more of an emotional attachment than most. When Lapointe was with the Bruins in the 2003-04 season, the veteran winger took Bruins center Patrice Bergeron under his wing as he and his family welcomed the 18-year-old rookie -- who like Lapointe, hailed from the province of Quebec -- into their home and served as a host family for him.
To this day, Bergeron credits Lapointe and his family for easing his transition into the NHL and the English-speaking culture of Boston.
"Marty meant so much to me and he still does," Bergeron said Monday. "Everything he did for me that first year was amazing, and if you look at it looking back, it's unbelievable how he took me under his wing right away out of training camp, brought me with his family and kids and to any type of events and always including me as part of the family. I am very thankful and he is part of the reason I am who I am now. I learned a lot and matured a lot that year. Taking part in charity and community work was something special to him and I learned from that also. Marty was the key guy there for me that first year."
Reached by phone Sunday morning, Lapointe praised Bergeron for maturing into the young star and leader he has become at age 25. Lapointe is not surprised by Bergeron's success and knew when he welcomed him into his home that Bergeron would become the person -- and player -- he is today.
"I think as a young kid when he came over, I took him under my wing and I realized right away there was something special about him," Lapointe said. "He was willing and eager to listen and learn, really responsible and determined. That's something that you can't teach and his work ethic was impeccable. Off the ice and on the ice, he was very strict with his work ethic and that was impressive from a young kid like that. Those attributes obviously have only gotten better and will definitely help him in the Stanley Cup finals. I'm just really happy but not surprised to see him doing as well as he is and be in this situation."
Bergeron remembers that when he moved in as a rookie, one of the first things Lapointe did was show him pictures of his Stanley Cup championship runs with the Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.
"It was sick!" Bergeron said with a big smile. "Right away he gave me a tour in the basement where he had some pictures of him scoring a goal in the playoffs and then the Stanley Cup pictures. He had those small Stanley Cups, and he won two, so he had the two in his office. He told me about his years in Detroit and how winning meant so much. So it was something when you look at those pictures, just the facial expressions after they win the Cup is amazing and you wonder, 'what if?'"
Lapointe has followed Bergeron's career closely and he remembers a feeling of helplessness and deep concern for Bergeron when he suffered what ended up being a season-ending concussion on Oct. 27, 2007, on a hit from behind by the Flyers' Randy Jones. It was a Grade 3 concussion that forced the budding star to miss the remainder of the 2007-08 season and the Bruins' seven-game first-round loss to Montreal in the playoffs. As Lapointe recalled, it was a hit that could've ended Bergeron's career at age 22.
"It was so hard to watch him go through that because obviously I care about him as a friend and former teammate and really his career might have been over," Lapointe said. "I mean at first you just hope for the person's well-being and I knew how much he was suffering health wise. It was hard to watch from afar. But then you know how much he loves the game and you feel for the player, too. I was so glad to see him back and to see the career he has had since."
Bergeron not only bounced back from that concussion to play the following season, he overcame another concussion (second degree) in December 2008 and helped lead the Bruins to within one game of the conference finals in 2009 and 2010.
"He was determined like he always has been and it doesn't surprise me to see how much he has overcome," Lapointe said. "From that first concussion to the second one, he just kept persevering and didn't give up and I'm proud of him."
After missing the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals this postseason with a mild concussion suffered against the Flyers, Bergeron came back in Game 3 and looked as if hadn't missed a beat. Bergeron had two goals in Game 4, added an assist in Game 5 and was his usual dominant presence at the faceoff dot, winning more than 58 percent of his draws. His presence was a major factor in the Bruins' advancing to the Stanley Cup finals. Heading into the finals, Bergeron is third on the team in playoff scoring with 15 points and has won 62.3 percent of his faceoffs.
Lapointe was obviously concerned for Bergeron after he suffered his most recent concussion against the Flyers, but again, he isn't surprised to see Bergeron persevering through more adversity.
"Obviously I was scared for him with his history and hope for his well-being first and foremost," Lapointe said. "I've never had a concussion so I don't know how it feels but knowing his history, you know he had to be frustrated and disappointed. When I heard that he was going to be out, I felt so bad for him. But I'm glad he was OK and he came back strong like he did."
Bergeron's fast recovery and the way he has played since was just another reflection of the determination and will that Lapointe has always seen in Bergeron. That has been on full display in this playoff season.
"I think as I said, he had the work ethic but at the same time he was so calm with the puck and at a young age, you could tell how he would mature quicker than others," Lapointe said. "I think now and during the playoffs, one thing that I have seen really improve is [his] compete level and determination has really raised to an even higher level. When he goes into the corners he wants to get out with the puck, and that's something that comes from that fire instinct inside that any great player has."
What has been most impressive for Lapointe is seeing the quiet kid from Ancienne-Lorette, who hardly spoke a word of English when he arrived at training camp in 2003, become a true leader and alternate captain of the Boston Bruins.
"Patrice was always available and never hid from the media, facing the music," Lapointe said. "That says a lot to see that in a young kid and now you see him leading the way and showing the younger Bruins how to handle that side of the game and be accountable, it's so impressive to think that he's just 25."
Lapointe credited veteran Mark Recchi, who has been on Bergeron's line for most of the two-plus seasons he has been a Bruin, for helping Bergeron become a better leader.
"I think having Mark Recchi there the last two seasons, almost like a father figure for him, has been enormous in that sense," Lapointe said. "He's been great for Patrice, I know that, and Patrice has always been one to try and take it all in from the veterans and learn to be that leader. I think Mark has done a great job and Patrice is probably more of a quiet leader than a rah-rah guy but I think Mark helped him know when to lead with his play and when to speak up. He's already a great leader and captain material and he'll only be better."
As the Stanley Cup finals near, the words Conn Smythe are starting to be tossed around when people discuss Bergeron's performance in the playoffs and Lapointe thinks Bergeron deserves consideration as the playoff MVP.
"I wouldn't count him out," Lapointe said. "I mean, you've got some great candidates from [Tim] Thomas to [Roberto] Luongo, to [Ryan] Kesler, but Patrice is right there and he has been huge for the Bruins during this playoff run. They probably don't win that Tampa Bay series without him. I've watched him and he's taken it to such a high level. That's what the clutch and elite players do."
Lapointe hasn't spoken to Bergeron since before the playoffs, choosing to let his friend and former teammate focus on the task at hand. But he is cheering for Bergeron and the Bruins and is hoping he can make a congratulatory call within the next two weeks.
"I haven't called him or texted him during the playoffs because I know he needs to just stay in his zone, but I'm hoping I can call him and congratulate him after he wins the Stanley Cup," Lapointe said. "He deserves that and all the success he's having."
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.