Patrice Bergeron has Mike Sullivan to thank for his first NHL opportunity.
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Boston Bruin Patrice Bergeron is now one of the best two-way centers in the NHL, but back in 2003-04, Bergeron was just an 18-year-old kid in Bruins camp expecting to be sent back to juniors for the year. New Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan was then in his first season as the coach of the Bruins, and he had other plans for Bergeron.
Instead of sending a young Bergeron to juniors, Sullivan gave Bergeron his first NHL chance, moving the rookie to the wing for a year in order to lighten his responsibilities while introducing Bergeron to the NHL stage. Bergeron flourished in the role and the rest is history, but as Sullivan and the Penguins pay a visit to the Bruins Wednesday night, Bergeron told reporters he still remembers the man who gave him his first opportunity to play in the NHL.
Sullivan remained as Bruins head coach until June 2006, when he was fired by the Bruins' new GM at the time, Peter Chiarelli. Sullivan has since served as an assistant with the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks before he was hired as the head coach of the Penguins' AHL affiliate, the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins, over the summer. On Saturday, Sullivan earned a promotion to head coaching duties for the NHL club after the team relieved former head coach Mike Johnston of his duties.
Sullivan's roots in Boston extend beyond simply giving Bergeron his first NHL chance. A native of Marshfield, Mass., Sullivan played four years of college hockey for Boston University before embarking on an 11-year NHL playing career.
He’s the one that gave me my chance as a rookie coming in, second-round pick,” Bergeron told reporters Tuesday. “A lot of coaches could have just sent me back to junior and not even given me a shot and he did. He gave me some exhibition games to prove myself and I’ll always be thankful for that.”