PITTSBURGH – Some amazing things just happen in life. No reason. No plan. Simple serendipity. Meant to be. Like The Beatles. Like Michael Jordan with a basketball. Like a kid who dreams of being an astronaut and winds up walking on the moon.
For Team Canada, that serendipity is the combination of Sidney Crosby and Patrice Bergeron. They have played together for their country for a decade now and have won virtually every tournament they’ve played on the same line.
It all started thanks to blind luck. The NHL lockout cancelled the entire 2004/05 season, allowing Crosby and Bergeron to play together at the 2005 IIHF World Junior Championship. They arrived in Grand Forks, North Dakota from opposite directions, though.
Bergeron had already played a full season in the NHL, 2003/04 with the Boston Bruins, and at season’s end he joined Canada at the World Championship, winning gold.
Crosby was playing junior in the QMJHL with Rimouski and was the guaranteed first overall selection in the upcoming 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Although they were close in age, Bergeron was the more seasoned player in December 2004 when they first met.
“We got paired at the first practice and we had great chemistry right away,” Bergeron recalled. “It was just about communicating and having fun off the ice and talking a lot. We were roommates at the time.”
“We all knew he was a huge star coming up and his work ethic and the way he carried himself every night and the way he played with and without the puck was a pleasure to watch and be with. I’m trying to enjoy that and complement him as much as I can,” he added.
Coach Brent Sutter gets a huge high five all these years later for beginning this beautiful friendship that has garnered so much gold. In Grand Forks, the first game of the tournament featured Canada and Slovakia on Christmas Day afternoon. It took just 3:55 of playing time for Bergeron to convert a Crosby pass for their first of many shared goals. Crosby scored later in the period and again later in the game on a Bergeron pass.
Over the course of that tournament, the two accounted for 23 points (Bergeron 13, Crosby 10). Bergeron led the event in points and was named MVP. Canada won gold. (Note: Bergeron also has the unique distinction of winning World Championship gold before World Junior gold!)
Crosby was drafted by Pittsburgh in June 2005, but at the end of his first season he joined Canada at the 2006 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Latvia. Bergeron was there. More magic ensued. This time it was Crosby who led the tournament in scoring, the youngest ever to do so since the World Championship started in 1930. His 16 points was two more than Bergeron.
In their first game together, on 5th May against Denmark, Crosby scored two goals, both on passes from Bergeron. In all, they combined for an incredible eleven goals where one scored and the other assisted (and once Brad Boyes scored on assists from both of them).
Unfortunately, both players were left off the team for the Turin Olympics, but they were together again in Vancouver for the magical gold-medal run on home ice. Four years later, playing together, they helped Canada win a second successive Olympic gold.
Yesterday, the pair added to their dual resume. Early in the first period against Russia, Crosby roared down the left wing, stopped on a stamp, and flicked an unbelievable backhand pass through two defenders right onto Bergeron’s stick. Number 37 quickly moved in on goal and roofed a backhander to give Canada the early lead. It was a thing of beauty.
“He’s definitely the passer,” Bergeron said with a laugh of Crosby’s magical hands. “I’m the one trying to shoot. That’s something I have to do when he finds me like he does in the slot. It’s about trying to get that shot off. But I think I also have to make plays and play my game. He’s doing that. He’s a pleasure to play with.”
Later in the period they tried a play that has also become part of their act. When there is a faceoff to the left of the opposing goalie, Bergeron, a right-handed shot, will often take the face-off. Crosby, a lefty, lines up at the top of the circle for a backhand win.
Yesterday, the face-off win was just off, so Crosby had to pass the puck back to the point. On another occasion, he would have had a great shot on goal.
“We talk a lot,” Bergeron noted of the planned faceoff. “It depends on who the other centre is up against us. We want to set up a formation that will create chances. We have the luxury of both being centres, so we can do that. It all depends on how the night is going for us, if the guy is a left or right shot, whatever works. Plays like that faceoff are what we’re always trying to work on.”
Bergeron waxes nostalgic thinking about how his international career has been forged by a serendipitous pairing more than ten years ago.
“We’ve connected at the World Championships, and then it was the Olympics twice, and now here, so we’ve played with each other a bunch. We’ve seen a lot of each other over the years. It’s been a fun journey with him.”
It’s a journey that has at least one more chapter, starting in earnest this Saturday in Toronto. If Canada hoists Frank Gehry’s colourized trophy in two weeks, you can be certain it will likely be in large part to the success of Crosby and Bergeron, two players who have contributed enormously to the nation’s success in recent times.