When Patrice Bergeron takes to the ice for the Boston Bruins, his fans see the trademark slap shots and precision passes that have made him, by most accounts, the best defensive forward in the National Hockey League. What they don’t see is the circle of support that paved the path to his success.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t have gotten here without the help of my close family,” he told MassMutual. “It’s really my parents, my brother, and my wife. They’re the reason I’m here.”
Bergeron grew up playing hockey in Quebec City, Canada, following in the footsteps of his older brother. His love of the game was obvious. So was his talent.
He played for AAA Midget teams in his town and eventually changed schools to play for the Quebec elite team. He was drafted at age 17 by the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, which took him far from home for practices and games, and gave him an audience with NHL scouts. Behind the scenes, his parents cheered him on, carted him thousands of miles to practices and games, and kept him humble.
“I think the values that my parents showed me growing up are definitely some of the reasons why I'm here today, why I'm in the NHL pursuing my dreams, and why I keep wanting to get better at it,” said Bergeron, noting the unconditional support he received at home from his parents and his brother gave him strength in moments when his dream of playing professionally felt out of reach.
His mother, Sylvie Bergeron, a social worker with a passion for helping others, put her career on hold to be home with her boys during their teen years, when academics and hockey became more intense.
“She was working with people who had head injuries and head trauma back when I was growing up and now she’s working with young kids and families, but she quit her job for a few years knowing that those years could be challenging for us as 13-, 14-, and 15-year old boys, trying to figure everything out and going to high school,” he recalled. “She just wanted to make sure that she was there for us and make sure that we were keeping our values.”
It was a selfless decision that Bergeron, appreciates even more today. “I think that was huge for us and it was paramount for our upbringing,” he said.
His father, Gerard Cleary, was a foreman for the city when Bergeron was growing up, working nights when needed to provide for the family — and pay for the pricey hockey gear and fees associated with the sport. “He was plowing the streets of the city or dealing with plumbing issues,” said Bergeron. “It was hard labor, obviously, and a lot of hours. When he’d come back to the house, you could tell that he was tired, but he always found a way to drive us to different friend’s houses, or practices and games, and he was always there for us, making the time for it. It was always a special bond that way.”
The tight-knit family wasn’t just focused on hockey, however. Bergeron said his parents always made sure that he and his brother developed the skills to express and process their emotions in a healthy way. And they always made time for each other.
“We weren’t always going to Florida or on a long and big vacation,” the hockey pro reminisced. “But it was always about being together, whether it was going camping two hours away or doing something smaller. We were still having fun.”
As a father himself now, the family-first mentality is one that he and his wife Stephanie (the “rock” of his household) have adopted in their own home. “It does affect me as a parent, now, the way that my parents sacrificed a lot for me and my brother,” he said. “That's something that stuck with me and that I want to give to my kids as well.”
Bergeron does what he can to thank his parents for their endless support. “I try to give back to my family as much as I can, whether it’s money or just small gestures or trips,” he said. “They always tell me they never want anything from me. That’s what makes you want to do more.”
As a professional hockey player, he also gives back to the community through a program he started called “Patrice’s Pals,” which brings children from local hospitals and other organizations throughout New England to Bruins games to watch from the luxury suite. He then meets the kids and pauses for pictures afterwards.
It’s all a reflection, the hockey star said, of the love and support he receives from his family.
“They're the reason I'm here and the reason why I'm the person that I am,” said Bergeron. “It's one thing to be a hockey player, but it's a lot more important to be a good person off the ice and like who you are. To me, my family has made me.”
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