Editor’s note: This is the second post in a week-long series which will ask fans to determine the face of each pro sports franchise in Boston. Yesterday, we asked who is the face of the Red Sox?
Boston may never again be first and foremost a hockey city, the way it was during the golden days of Orr and Esposito, but the Bruins sure have climbed the ladder in the local sports hierarchy in the past five years.
Since Peter Chiarelli became the general manager in 2006 and Claude Julien arrived a year later, the Bruins have made the playoffs in five straight seasons and of course won the Stanley Cup in 2011, Boston’s first since 1972. This year, that championship potential remains as present as ever, as the Bruins look poised for another playoff run at the end of this lockout-shortened season.
It’s been an incredible rise to popularity in Boston, considering the 2004-05 lockout and the pair of seasons which followed were two of the worst consecutive seasons the franchise had had since the 1960s.
And that widespread fame may make it hard to single out one player as the face of the franchise.
The longest-tenured member of the team, it’s hard to believe Patrice Bergeron is still just 27 years old. The talented two-way forward has always shown maturity beyond his years, going back to his rookie season of 2003-04, when he scored 16 goals and added 23 assists as an 18-year-old. Following the ’04-’05 lockout, he led the team with 73 points in ’05-’06 and posted 70 points the next season. His career was threatened by a serious concussion suffered in 2007, and he faced another concussion scare the following season.
Yet, Bergeron persevered to get back to the B’s, and he eventually scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. It’s still early in Bergeron’s career, but it’s hard to picture him ever playing anywhere other than with the Black and Gold.
He’s big, he’s most certainly bad, and for so many fans, he represents the mentality of the Boston Bruins. He is Milan Lucic.
The big-bodied bruiser burst onto the Bruins scene when he was 19 years old, contributing with 27 points and electrifying more than a few home crowds by showing off his heavyweight form with 13 fights and 89 PIMs as a rookie.
Since then, he’s developed into a top-six talent, scoring 30 goals in 2010-11 and posting back-to-back seasons of 60 or more points leading up to this year. He may not be “the next Cam Neely,” as he was hyped to be when he arrived as a rookie, but it’s still harder to find a jersey more popular around the TD Garden than No. 17.
He may face an uphill battle to win this vote, but at the same time, he’s got plenty working in his favor.
For starters, he’s the flashiest offensive player on the team, and at just 21 years old, he’s set up to be the team’s leading goal scorer for years to come. He posted modest numbers as a 19-year-old rookie (11 goals, 11 assists in 74 games) in 2010-11, but he showed up on the big stage in the Eastern Conference finals, when he scored three goals and added three assists in his first two postseason games.
He followed that up with a 29-goal season, which led the team last year. While he didn’t get off to an explosive start offensively this season, there’s no player on the current roster who inspires 17,000 fans to inch toward the edge of their seat every time he carries the puck across the blue line quite like Mr. Seguin.
The aforementioned dramatic turnaround for the franchise did not happen by accident. In fact, there was no player more instrumental to the culture change than the captain, Zdeno Chara.
You know, of course, that he’s the tallest man to ever skate in the NHL, but he is much more than that. He is an absolute workhorse, averaging 25 minute or more per game and 80 games played per season since joining Boston in 2006-07. He is the anchor of a defensive-focused system, and he knows when to pick his spots offensively, averaging 13 goals and 47 points per season and a plus-101 rating.
While his “worthiness” of the captain’s “C” has occasionally been questioned by people outside the Bruins’ locker room, his reputation is strong with his teammates, and players around the league know that if they miss with anyone in a Bruins jersey, they’ll eventually have to answer to Chara.
Just as Seguin might have had a disadvantage in this discussion, Cam Neely may have an unfair advantage. That’s because for a decade, from the mid-’80s to mid-’90s, no man better represented the spoked B quite like Neely.
So naturally, when the Hockey Hall of Famer rejoined the organization and took over as team president before the 2010-11 season, Bruins fans were happy to see him back where he belongs.
Since then, Neely’s influence on the team has been clear, as coach Claude Julien and Co. have taken extra pride in doing the little things everywhere on the ice and never backing down from any physical challenges. Fortunately, the calls for Neely to vacate the executive booth and step behind the bench in place of Julien have died down, but Bruins fans are still happy to have Neely playing such a prominent role in the way this team operates.
Winner: Patrice Bergeron — 39 percent
Zdeno Chara — 28 percent
Cam Neely — 18 percent
Milan Lucic — 8 percent
Tyler Seguin — 7 percent