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Black and golden: Hopes high for Bergeron, Raycroft

On Sept. 21, Bruins captain Joe Thornton and veteran right wing Glen Murray sat in a luxury box watching Boston take on the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Wachovia Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. The pregame hype was all about NHL phenom Sidney Crosby -- the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft -- but during the contest Thornton and Murray were positively giddy about someone else.

They were mesmerized by the performance of their teammate -- 20-year-old Patrice Bergeron, who scored two goals and had two assists in Boston's 5-4 overtime victory.

The next day at practice, they were still shaking their heads.

''He had some nifty moves out there, eh, Glen?" Thornton asked Murray.

''He was unbelievable," agreed Murray.

Bergeron came in under the radar during the fall of 2003, only a couple of months after being drafted in the second round (No. 45 overall) by Boston. The plan was for the youngster to get a taste of the NHL and then return to juniors. However, Bergeron made himself so noticeable the front office had no choice but to reward him with an NHL job. He said he sees the contrast between his entry into the big time and that of Crosby, who was Bergeron's Team Canada linemate during the 2005 World Junior tournament.

''I was coming here and I was a second-round pick and I had no expectation put on me that I was supposed to stay," said Bergeron. ''There was no pressure. It helped me a bit because I see Sidney Crosby. He can deal with pressure, but he's got a lot of pressure on him and sometimes that's tough. I think people sometimes forget he's 18 years old and he's playing with guys 35. It's a big change."

After an impressive rookie campaign, which had Bergeron running neck and neck with teammate Andrew Raycroft for the Calder Trophy until he was sidelined by a shoulder injury, he spent the lockout honing his skills in Providence. As much as the lost NHL season was a detriment to so many, coach Mike Sullivan said it actually benefited Bergeron, who scored 21 goals and 40 assists in 68 games.

A year of maturity''He's a year older, a year more mature, and he's got another year of hockey under his belt," said Sullivan. ''I thought the year he had down in Providence was invaluable for him. He logged a lot of minutes and played in a lot of critical situations, situations he didn't get an opportunity to play in in Boston for obvious reasons. He's a really competitive kid and I think that drive makes him what he is. He just gets better and better every day."

As much as Bergeron represents the future of the Bruins' forwards, the 25-year-old Raycroft is expected to be the mainstay in net for the club. He said it's a much less stressful experience this season than it has been in the past. Previously, he always felt he was in for a fight just to make the team.

''It's definitely a different mind-set," said Raycroft. ''I'll work just as hard if not harder. It's always felt like my season started Sept. 5 and not Oct. 5. Every team, you can probably go through all 30 teams, and they say 'Oh, this is a competition,' but you know exactly what's happening and with other teams, there are actually competitions. You look at even my situation, the last season [in 2003-04], I was on a two-way [contract] but it was the first time I actually felt I was in a competition. The two or three years before, the writing was basically on the wall. It didn't really matter. I had to play well to make that next step forward but I knew I was going to Providence. I think the last season was a legit competition. I had to play well and I actually had a shot and fortunately it worked out."

There has been much written and said about the new rules, designed to open up the game, but Raycroft said he isn't worried because the obstruction penalties are going to be called both ways.

''If you give up a bad goal at the start of the game, you know the power plays are going to go back the other way," he said. ''It puts a lot more pressure on the guys who score rather than the goalies who stop it. Before, if you gave up two goals in the first, you might as well pack it in. You might as well just go home, especially against a Carolina. You know it's only going to be 2-1. In that way, it almost takes the pressure off the goalies and puts it back on the guys to score four or five goals a night."

No worries in netThere won't be any ties this season, because if the clubs are deadlocked after OT, a shootout will ensue. Raycroft said that's not as bad a deal for the goalies as some might think.

''On a penalty shot, the pressure is on them to hit the net," he said. ''The pressure is on them to make the move and have the puck not jump over their stick. Every once in a while, they're going to make me look really bad, but for the most part, they won't. You want to be good at it, you want to be the best shootout goalie in the league this year."

When teams were interviewing Raycroft before the 1998 draft, he said he didn't have a clue who was interested or where he might go. He wound up Boston's fourth pick (No. 135 overall) and in retrospect looks like a steal. His last year in junior, playing for Kingston, he was named the Ontario League's most valuable player in 1999-2000, becoming the first netminder in 50 years to earn the honor. Had he not signed with Boston, he would've gone back into the 2000 draft.

''The year after I got drafted, I was average, the team didn't have a very good year and we had a lot of problems," said Raycroft. ''My last year of junior, that's when [Bruins scout Gerry Cheevers] started showing up more and [assistant general manager] Jeff Gorton started showing up. It seemed like someone was there almost every game and other scouts were watching in case I went back in the draft."

He took one look, though, at Boston's goaltending depth and realized his best chance was there.

''I knew it was a good place to be," he said. ''There was opportunity and I guessed right. I got to play right away and in 29 other organizations, that wouldn't have happened."

When Bergeron waited to see how his draft day would go, he said the experience took its toll.

''I was kind of in a bad mood with my family because I was too nervous," he said. ''My family tried to do some stuff with me just to [ease] my mind a little bit. It worked out well. I was pretty happy about being drafted by Boston and I'm even more happy now because it's a great city with great guys."

Help from a veteranCrosby has owner/star Mario Lemieux to watch his back in Pittsburgh his first year. Bergeron had veteran Marty Lapointe to mentor him in 2003-04. Though Lapointe is now in Chicago, Bergeron said his support will be appreciated for the rest of his career.

''He did pretty much everything for me," he said. ''I didn't know Marty before. He's a great guy and there aren't too many people who would've done that for a guy they didn't know. It just tells how good a guy he is. He still calls me and makes sure I'm all right. He was kind enough to bring me [to] his house with his family and his kids. I needed something like that. Sometimes I'd be playing with his kids and not thinking about hockey. It was great."

He also learned the off-ice basics such as opening a checking account and getting a new driver's license. ''All those little things you don't think about, he did for me," said Bergeron.

The Bruins feel Bergeron's contribution to the team -- whether playing center or wing -- is limitless.

''Being a rookie at 18, he came in and didn't miss a beat," said Thornton. ''This year, just his patience for a young guy is uncanny and he has lots of confidence. The sky is the limit for his potential right now."

When asked if he had that kind of confidence at that age, Thornton said it was a different situation because then-coach Pat Burns tried to take the pressure off him as the No. 1 overall pick and eased him into the mix rather than throwing him in with both feet.

''When I was 20, I started feeling that I could be a star in this league," said Thornton. ''Maybe not so early [as Bergeron], but in my third year, I felt a lot more confident than I did in my first year. You can obviously tell he's acting the same way right now."

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