Patrice Bergeron looked to his left. Brad Marchand was there. Bergeron turned his head the other way. Tyler Seguin was sprinting toward the net.
It was just a line rush during an informal practice Wednesday at Boston University’s Agganis Arena. But with the Bruins preparing to start the season Jan. 19, it was a snapshot of what will soon become a common Black-and-Gold sight.
Bergeron can’t wait.
“I’m very happy to be back,” said Bergeron, who returned to Boston via his native Quebec City on Tuesday. “I was happy to be crossing the border and be back in Boston, back in my place. It just felt like home. It was a good feeling.”
Bergeron was one of three additions to the week’s informal practices. The alternate captain, along with fellow letter-wearers Zdeno Chara and Chris Kelly, made their first twirls on the BU rink alongside nine of their teammates.
Bergeron was one of 12 Bruins to play overseas during the NHL lockout. Most recently, Bergeron and Seguin helped lead Canada to a win in the Spengler Cup, the international tournament played annually in Switzerland. Before that, Bergeron signed with Switzerland’s HC Lugano, where he was reunited with ex-Bruin Glen Metropolit.
In 2007-08, after Bergeron suffered a career-threatening concussion, Metropolit assumed some of the center’s shifts. Metropolit, signed as a camp invitee, collected 11 goals and 22 assists in 82 games with the Bruins.
Their most recent reunion came under better health for Bergeron. For most of Bergeron’s Swiss stay, he skated on Metropolit’s right side. Bergeron, who made his NHL debut as a right wing, had 11 goals and 18 assists in 21 games for HC Lugano.
Bergeron has made his reputation as a two-way forward. In the 2010 Olympics, Canada coach Mike Babcock deployed Bergeron as a faceoff and defensive specialist. Last season, Bergeron won his first Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward.
But Bergeron can snipe, too. During the 2004-05 lockout, Bergeron played in Providence. That full year of pro hockey helped Bergeron, in his 2005-06 NHL return, total a career-best 73 points in 81 games.
In Switzerland, Bergeron assumed more of a point-producing approach.
“I played my game, but my game was more offensive — going out there for the big goal,” Bergeron said. “It’s something I loved to do down there. It was fun. I played with Metro and we had great chemistry. It was fun. I just played my game.”
Since Claude Julien took over the Bruins bench in 2007, Bergeron has been the coach’s most dependable forward. Julien can tap the 27-year-old’s shoulder for any situation: five on five, power play, penalty kill, last-minute faceoff.
Bergeron will become even more important in the upcoming compressed season. He acknowledged it is different hockey in Switzerland. The rinks are bigger. The players aren’t as physical. But the level of skill and competition, according to Bergeron, was high — fierce enough to keep him close to NHL-ready.
“You never know until you play your first game,” Bergeron said. “But still, I played over there. The tempo of the game and the speed of the game is very fast.
“I was lucky enough to play in the Spengler Cup, as well. The competition was very high. I feel good. Now I’m just looking forward to getting started.”
Last season, the Bruins didn’t have a clear-cut No. 1 line. The threesome of Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Nathan Horton had more of an offensive presence when clicking. But Julien could just as easily turn to Marchand, Bergeron, and Seguin when he needed offense. Opposing coaches had to devise game plans to counter both lines, not just a top-heavy trio.
To start this season, however, Bergeron’s line might have to assume greater offensive responsibilities. It is unknown how Horton will perform. The right wing hasn’t played since Jan. 22, 2012, when he suffered a season-ending concussion. Lucic didn’t play in Europe during the lockout.
In contrast, Bergeron and Seguin were ripping it up in Switzerland. Their NHL hands and legs should return quicker than those of Horton and Lucic.
“A week is not much time to get ready,” Bergeron said of training camp. “At this level, guys are very good and very smart. But I think it helped us to have that many guys playing real games. It’s not as physical, but you still get involved. It’s different than practicing. I think it’s a plus.
“But you still need to bring your A-game right away. I think the fact that we have all the guys coming back is going to help us, hopefully, with the chemistry.”
Aside from his concussion-shortened 2007-08 and the following season, in which he tried to reclaim his form, Bergeron has developed every year. Bergeron’s 22-42—64 performance last season was off his 73-point 2005-06. But he is a more complete player now. He can stand alongside centers such as Jonathan Toews, Pavel Datsyuk, and Claude Giroux — all-around players who have earned their coaches’ trust.
The Bruins will need Bergeron to be even better this season. When healthy, Bergeron has shown such expectations are welcome.
. . .
Bergeron, Marchand, Seguin, Lucic, Kelly, Chara, Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid, Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell, and Tuukka Rask practiced at BU Wednesday. The Bruins are scheduled to return to Ristuccia Arena, their usual practice facility, Thursday. Among the players who have yet to participate in informal practices are Horton, Krejci, Rich Peverley, Daniel Paille, and Anton Khudobin . . . The Bruins will recall four forwards and two defensemen from Providence to participate in a shortened training camp, which is expected to start Sunday. Chris Bourque, Lane MacDermid, Ryan Spooner, Jamie Tardif, Matt Bartkowski, and David Warsofsky will skate with the varsity, according to the Providence Journal. It would give the Bruins the five lines and four defense pairings that GM Peter Chiarelli had anticipated. McQuaid, who is rehabbing from surgery to remove a blood clot, might not be ready at the start of camp.