LAS VEGAS - Eight seasons into a career that was nearly truncated 4-5 years ago by a couple of menacing concussions, Bruins center Patrice Bergeron Wednesday night won the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward at the league’s annual awards ceremony at the Wynn Resort and Casino.
“To win the Selke is something that I am proud of,’’ said Bergeron, 26, the only Bruin other than Steve Kasper (1982) to win the award. “But it’s not going to get anywhere close to the Stanley Cup.’’
Earlier in the ceremony, which ran long on bad jokes (part of the event’s tradition), Boston captain Zdeno Chara missed out on winning the second Norris Trophy (top defenseman) of his career. Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson, the league’s top-scoring defenseman, copped that award, ahead of Chara and Nashville’s Shea Weber.
“Tonight’s about Patrice,’’ said Chara, adroitly sidestepping a question about whether he was disappointed in not winning. “Honestly, I almost screamed when [Bergeron] won.
“He deserved it. He is such a great teammate and friend. It means a lot to have him on our team. He plays every role, every situation. You can always count on him. He is just a tremendous hockey player and person.’’
The recognition for Bergeron was long overdue, the delay due perhaps in part to his concussion history, which included a devastating slam into the boards by Philadelphia’s Randy Jones in October 2007 - causing him to miss the remainder of the season.
For Boston fans, the delay was similar to the one a generation earlier experienced by Ray Bourque. The Hall of Fame defenseman, like Bergeron a favorite son of Quebec, did not win his first of five Norris Trophies until completing his eighth NHL season.
“That’s the way it is,’’ said Bergeron. “It takes a long time in this league to get on top of your game.’’
The 45th pick in the 2003 draft, Bergeron projected to be a solid second- or third-line center, one who could provide smart, reliable defensive play and moderate scoring. He has fulfilled all that and more, and now shares top billing on the Boston depth chart at center with David Krejci.
It was during junior hockey, said Bergeron, that his coach, Real Paiement, made it clear to him that he would need to master both sides of the rink to make it to the NHL. But ever since he was 12, he had taken pride in not allowing the opposition to score when he was on the ice.
“It does feel special, obviously,’’ Bergeron said. “Playing both sides of the rink is something I take a lot of pride in. It’s the way I learned to play hockey.
“But you can’t do this without your teammates. I am really happy my name is going to be on the trophy.’’
As he sat with the trophy, Bergeron read aloud some of the names on it: Rod Brind’Amour, Pavel Datsyuk, Jere Lehtinen, Sergei Fedorov.
“All guys I watched on TV as a kid,’’ he said. “It’s impressive . . . and humbling.’’
Chara found out quickly that he was an also-ran, with the naming of the Norris Trophy winner leading off the show. The slick, mobile Karlsson was no surprise winner, although he hardly fits the description of the No. 1 defender in the game.
The 22-year-old Senator, who just completed his third season, is among the game’s most exciting performers, one of the few back liners who can wheel the puck out of his zone and make rink-length rushes.
All of that may not help keep the puck out of his own net - which is the main charge of defensemen - but it does make him a star in today’s game.
“He plays with such confidence,’’ said Chara. “Sometimes you see certain young players play with some hesitation, but he’s not scared to risk a mistake. He just goes for it.’’
Actor Ray Liotta added some levity toward the end of the show as he presented the Vezina Trophy to Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
Liotta noted that it was the duty of the previous winner, i.e. Tim Thomas, to present the award, “but we couldn’t wait 12 months.’’
That was a shot Thomas couldn’t turn back. The veteran goalie said just a few weeks ago that he likely will not play next season, potentially forfeiting the final year of his Boston contract worth $3 million.
Ken Hitchcock of the Blues was named the Jack Adams Award winner as Coach of the Year . . . Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog was named Rookie of the Year, the first Colorado player since Chris Drury (1999) to win the Calder Trophy . . . Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin was chosen a double MVP - first by the Players Association (Lindsay Award) and then by the league (Hart Trophy).