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The Verdict: Bergevin's success more pluck than luck

Tuesday, 06.21.2011 / 1:00 AM / The Verdict
By Bob Verdi  - Blackhawks Team Historian
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The Verdict: Bergevin\'s success more pluck than luck
Blackhawks Asst. GM Marc Bergevin with his son at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft in Montreal (Photo by Getty Images).

A lot of people have done a lot of things in hockey, been to a lot of places and forged a lot of relationships. But Marc Bergevin’s dossier is in the team picture for full-length movies. Yet, as he assumes his latest role as assistant general manager with the Blackhawks, Bergevin talks not about twists or turns or titles, but symmetry.

“I grew up two miles from the Montreal Forum,” he says. “My dad was a fireman. I didn’t come from money. But as a kid, my sister Denise’s husband, Gilles, took me to a Canadiens’ game that I could not afford to go to. After it’s over, we go to the gift shop. He tells me to pick out something. I pick out a Blackhawks’ patch. Why, I don’t know.

THE VERDICT

Team historian Bob Verdi has covered sports for five decades, including more than 40 years as a columnist and contributor for the Chicago Tribune. Verdi authored "Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years" in 2001.

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“Years later, 1983, they hold the NHL draft in the Forum. I’m selected by the Blackhawks. I wind up playing in Chicago and marrying Ruth, a woman from Chicago. I come back to work in Chicago, where we live with our three children. Now I have this opportunity with this great organization. This is where my path has taken me. How can all this happen if it was not meant to be?”

Bergevin’s story, however, is less about luck than pluck. He toiled on defense for 20 years with eight NHL franchises, including multiple tours at a few of them. He did not last that long and was not brought back for curtain calls because he dominated—“the only way I was an impact player was if I made a mistake,” he allows—but because he adjusted to changing styles, learned with every shift and endeared himself to franchises because he was in uniform what he still is in a striped suit behind his new desk: a character guy.

Because his junior team in Chicoutimi traveled long and far, Bergevin’s formal education ended at grade 11. But you can’t teach instinct, or the ability to absorb or the desire to grow. At one of Bergevin’s stops, St. Louis, the Blues’ general manager Larry Pleau offered advice: If you want to stay in hockey, get your hands on everything possible; don’t pigeonhole yourself. Bergevin never forgot that, because he forgets little. He grew up in awe of Scotty Bowman’s Canadiens, played for him in Detroit, then heard via a third party what the Blackhawks’ Hall of Fame senior advisor for hockey operations said just the other day. That same Marc Bergevin, who will work beside Scotty’s son, general manager Stan, “has got a really good eye” when evaluating talent.

“Wow, that’s a heck of a compliment from a man I idolize,” says Bergevin. “It’s so interesting, what I’ve experienced. As a rookie, I came to Chicago raw. Couldn’t speak English, never drove a car in my life. I’m wondering whether I can stay with the Blackhawks for 10 games, or will they return me to juniors? Curt Fraser gives me a lift to the Bismarck Hotel one day and tells me I might play 10 years in the NHL. I’m worried about 10 games! I wind up playing 20 years. Now, this. I’m stuck in traffic, and I still can’t wait to get to the United Center. My strength is not numbers, salary cap stuff, but I will learn. I always tried to realize what I could do and what I couldn’t do.”

As a player with the Blackhawks, Bergevin developed a well-earned reputation as a prankster. He would skate behind the Zamboni and mimic a water-skier. If there were doughnuts in the locker room, he might dip a few in hot wax, then return them to the box. You removed your jacket during dinner with him at considerable risk.

“Go to the bathroom, and he fills your coat pockets with forks, knives, salt shakers,” recalls Denis Savard, the Blackhawks’ Hall of Fame ambassador. “Then he’d tell the restaurant owner this guy next to me is stealing stuff. Thank goodness Bergie took it easy on me.”

Marc Bergevin and his family pose with the Stanley Cup in 2010 (Getty Images).

That’s because, three months into Bergevin’s first season, he was invited to live with Savard. When Bergevin was traded to Pittsburgh, he was picked up at the airport by his childhood buddy, Mario Lemieux. When the Vancouver Canucks needed to settle down after Todd Bertuzzi was suspended for a violent hit in 2004, they acquired Bergevin as a steadying influence at the behest of their assistant GM, Bob Murray, a former teammate who nicknamed Bergevin “Bam Bam” for his emphatic mid-ice bodychecks. And when Joel Quenneville was appointed Blackhawks coach, he asked Bergevin to leave his post as the organization’s director of pro scouting to become his assistant. Coach Q had Bergevin in St. Louis and liked his style.

These events do not occur by happenstance. Bergevin is revered around the league as a personable and devoted individual who, in a cutthroat business, can alleviate stress with one sentence of his trademark dry wit. As Bergevin says, “you can be successful and still laugh; you can be serious and still laugh.”

His passion is unquestioned. When the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in Philadelphia last June, players, coaches and staff spilled onto the ice for a celebration.  Smiles were abundant, except for Bergevin, who was sobbing uncontrollably. Not a tear here and a sniffle there. He was bawling.

“It meant so much to me,” Bergevin says. “As a child, I took off school to sit on my cousin’s shoulders for the parade in Montreal. A year after I left the Red Wings, they win the Cup in 1997. A year after I left the Tampa Bay Lightning, they win the Cup in 2004. That’s the year I retired, with Vancouver. Many of my friends, like Mario, won the Cup and invited me to parties. I never went. The year Anaheim won, in 2007, I was scouting for Chicago. Third period, I had to leave. I couldn’t watch. That’s why I was so emotional in Philadelphia. I was a mess. And you know what? When we win it again with the Blackhawks, I will do the same thing again. I will cry like a baby.”