During his brief stay with the Penguins, Marian Hossa meshed well his superstar Sidney Crosby. Burying crisp passes as Pittsburgh came within two games of Hockey's Holy Grail. The outcome was heartbreaking. But when Hossa chose not to resign with the Penguins, it was only a partial disappointment. Good riddance to anyone who doesn't truly want to play here. And, on a slightly more distant note. The subconscious relief of not seeing the player whose accidental stick, all but ruined one of my personal favorites, Bryan Berard.
Born in the New England town of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, Berard dazzled the scouts with his skills. From an early age, you could tell he was something special. Whose limits would only be determined by his will. Desire. Or fate. He was the lone sparking gem in an underachieving '96 U.S. World Junior Team. Whose futility was summarized by a fifth place finish. A medal of any type was not to be.
The Ottawa Senators wisely took him first overall. But Bryan Berard refused to play. The lone action of his which I disagreed with (Testing positive for steroids in '06 too). I knew it was a big mistake. One he would regret, down the road. Needless to say, Mike Milbury featured him as the centerpiece in an Islanders Renaissance. A Calder Trophy followed. Stability did not. Berard's stay on Long Island lasted slightly longer than that horrendous Fisherman Logo. Milbury shipped him off to Toronto for fading Felix Potvin. He seemed somewhat lost as a Maple Leaf. While his defensive play improved, the explosive offensive threat vanished. Where's the Bryan Berard who engineered 48 & 46 point seasons? The star I emulated while skating on frozen Abington ponds? Where did he go? Shortly after, the horrible eye injury insued. An accidental stick follow-through by Ottawa's Marian Hossa. My heart sank. The loud shattering of my dropped glass summed up the occasion perfectly.
Berard went through many frustrating moments. Numerous painstaking eye surguries. Yet. He still found the time to answer my fan letter, by sending me an autographed photo. Perhaps that's what they mean, about hockey players being a different breed. In an age characterized by Scrooge-like greed and selfishness, Berard showed character by returning his insurance settlement in favor of an unlikely, comeback attempt. He's had limited success. His best season was with the Chicago Blackhawks, when he was awarded the Bill Masterson Trophy. But aside from Columbus' two-year contract, clubs have been relucant to offer any kind of contract security. A pattern which will likely continue.
Funny how destiny works sometimes. Had Berard committed himself to the Ottawa Senators, his future would've probably been brighter. Though the pressure to succeed would be higher, the opportunity was perhaps richer. The pieces were there. Alexandre Daigle, Daniel Alfredsson, Alexei Yashin, Shawn McEachern, Steve Duchesne & the late Sergei Zholtok. One can only imagine the endless possibilties. With so many tools at his disposal, Bryan Berard would have undoubtedly surpassed the 48 points he recorded as a Islander. Savvy veteran Duchesne would've served as an excellent mentor.
As Wade Redden's tenure with Ottawa finally came to a close, one can't help but wonder. What different path Bryan Berard's career would have taken? What would he have accomplished in those eleven years? His mouthwatering skills and dedication would have meshed beautifully, with the host of stars that have came to wear the Senator's jersey. Certainly a perennial All-Star selection. And perhaps, even on track to the Hall Of Fame. One can only, sadly ponder.