By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It wasn’t as climactic as a player scoring the game-winning goal in his NHL debut or in his return to his hometown, or even scoring on his birthday, but it was still special that Patrice Bergeron scored the decisive goal for the Bruins on Hockey Is For Everyone (HIFE) Night at TD Garden on Thursday.
Although linemate Brad Marchand was designated during HIFE month as one of 31 actively playing ambassadors, Bergeron is by far the Bruins’ most publicly visible player when it comes to issues involving inclusion and diversity. HIFE is the NHL initiative that uses “the game to drive social change and foster more inclusive communities.”
In March 2016, Bergeron recorded a supportive message for the Massachusetts attorney general in support of state legislature bills SB 735 and HR 1577, which expanded transgender anti-discrimination laws to apply to public spaces. That July, Governor Charlie Baker signed the legislature’s compromise bill.
This season the five major Boston sports teams began an initiative called “Take the Lead” to combat racism and hate speech. Bergeron is prominently featured in the video that promotes “Take the Lead.” which is shown a couple of times at each Bruins game.
Known as a somewhat quiet leader during his 15 years with the Bruins, Bergeron believes it’s important to be vocal when equality and fairness are at stake.
“I feel like acceptance and equality and stuff like that is something that has been talked about a lot, and I think it’s something that deserves a voice,” Bergeron told me after the Bruins beat St. Louis 3-1. “I think that’s how it should be. There’s a lot of things in the world that’s going on and a lot of hate, and I feel like we should spread more love. That was my way of saying everyone is accepted. And tonight was a perfect night to say that hockey is for everyone, and it goes beyond that.”
Bergeron almost didn’t get to score on HIFE night. With Marchand serving game three of his five-game suspension, Bergeron and David Pastrnak continued to search for chemistry with left wing Danton Heinen. The trio played better than they did in the loss to Anaheim on Tuesday but still didn’t get on the score sheet at 5-on-5.
In the third period the Bruins finally got their first power play of the game and Bergeron was able to get to one of his favorite spots on the ice – the right circle. Pastrnak found Bergeron there for a one-timer that gave the Bruins a 2-0 lead with 11:55 remaining in the game.
It was Bergeron’s 21st goal of the season, and more than a handful of them have come from that spot as the bumper on Boston’s first power-play unit.
“[That spot is] in between the defenseman and the forward, and sometimes there’s miscommunication in that position and I’m trying to find that,” Bergeron said. “I know it’s always a tough area to defend, so I’m trying to get open there. My teammates are doing a great job to find me there, so it’s definitely good to get a lot of looks from that position.”
Bergeron has 43 points in 44 games. His career highs for goals (32) and points (73) are well in reach. He credits his linemates (usually Marchand and Pastrnak) for taking a lot of the attention off him with their speed and playmaking for his offensive outburst this season. Clearly Bergeron’s hard work enhancing his shot has helped his offensive resurgence at age 32, when the data suggest players typically see a dip in their production.
And he’s putting up more points without losing a bit of the stifling defensive play that’s made him a four-time Selke Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defensive forward. Bergeron just never let himself get typecast as a checking center.
“I think you want to push yourself. … I think that’s something that’s important to do if you want to keep having fun and keep enjoying the game, you need some goals and some objectives and challenges and I think that’s one of them,” he said.
There are many goals left to be scored and games to be won for Bergeron in a Bruins sweater. He keeps climbing up the franchise’s all-time lists and ranks seventh in goals (279) and points (713).
As he continues to fortify his position among the elite athletes in the history of Boston, he’s likely to be asked to take more political stands. Don’t expect him to run for office any time soon, but there’s no doubt Bergeron will be willing to speak out for those who need support from someone of his lofty status in this region.
“I don’t mind doing that type of thing,” he said. “Sometimes the minority [needs] a voice.”
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.