Originally posted at www.hockeybuzz.com .
I have resisted writing this article for fear it may be the last one I do on the young player I have referred to so often as “My Boy Sean.”
He was that skinny, fresh-faced, Finnish kid that caught my attention in a pre-season game in Bridgeport fighting off the great Mario Lemieux so many years ago. He was the stunning blue-eyed blond that gushed when I asked him to sign my daughter’s jersey at the airport one morning in October of 2003 while Roman Hamrlik stood speechless. He was the bull-in-a-china shop on the energy line for the Sound Tigers. He was the occasional call-up to the home club that would get four minutes a game on the fourth line. He was the bright prospect who pouted at being relegated to the AHL and fell into a slump. He was the youngster who took bad advice from an agent that saw him leave the NHL for the Swedish Elite League. He was the prodigal son who swallowed his pride and returned home to sign a new contract with the Islanders. He is the kid who grew up before my eyes.
I am still reluctant to write this entry. There is so much I can say and so much emotion that may spill out onto the page. I’ll try to resist the hearts and flowers and stick with the facts, but after so many years, it may be difficult. Please, bear with me.
Sean Bergenheim was the NY Islanders first round draft pick in 2002, 22nd overall. But unlike some other first rounders the Islanders have had, he arrived without fanfare or merchandising. Eight years later, you will not find a Bergenheim Tee shirt on the concourse or a jersey unless you custom order it. “There's just no demand.” I’ve been told on more than one occasion. I don’t buy that argument. But I don’t make the decisions.
He has represented his country seven times at World Championships and found the back of the net a few times for them. (Fourteen times to be exact). But as skilled a player as he can be is also as inconsistent as he has been.
He has also seen his fair share of injuries that have kept him out of the lineup. Nothing too severe; but bad enough to keep him from playing a full season. The most number of games he has been able to play in recent years was 83 between Bridgeport and the NY Islanders in the 2005-2006 season. He played 59 games in 2008-2009 and 63 this last season. In 246 NHL games, Sean has a total of only 80 points.
According to The Hockey News, one of Sean’s original flaws was “must make better decisions on the ice, with or without the puck.” There were nights that Scott Gordon echoed that sentiment and others when he praised him.
It wasn’t until late this season that Sean Bergenheim started to make people take notice again. Now, mind you, this is also the kid that Scotty Bowman took notice of and commented on a few years back. But that’s the deal with Bergenheim who ends this season as an RFA.
On breakdown day, April 12, 2010, I stood next to Sean while he signed a row of jerseys. “Do you mind if I keep signing?” he asked me as I turned on my recorder. “Can you walk and chew gum at the same time?” I asked jokingly (Not even knowing why I did but it’s something all us older generation say). It made him chuckle, “Yes, I think I can.”
I asked him what he felt his biggest accomplishment has been this season and while Sean, who calls himself a Swedish speaking Finn, has a brilliant command of the English language, you can still see the wheels turning as he formulates his answers.
“To be more positive. To see things more positive. It’s not always easy as it might be.” In Sean’s four NHL seasons, it hasn’t been. “In general —to see the positive stuff. It’s a mental thing that I don’t know if it comes from age or what it is, but I just feel I am —maybe —I don’t get as down on myself anymore.”
Yes, under Scott Gordon, Sean has had an attitude adjustment. I personally feel he works well with him.
When I asked what he would be working on this offseason, he took a moment. “It’s something I’m going to think about this week. Sort of go through this season. Right now, off the top of my head is just shooting, stick-handling technique —that sort of stuff.”
Sean had fewer shots this season than last with 133 as opposed to 152 in '08-'09. He also didn’t tally any game winning goals this season as opposed to last season’s five. But then again, they didn’t have Matt Moulson and John Tavares last season on the 30th place NY Islanders.
When I asked him when he starts to get the itch to begin a new hockey season he earnestly said “I would like to start another season tomorrow if I could.” Certainly being out of the line-up the last few games with “an upper body injury” made him feel cheated. “But I think, at this point, it’s good to get a little bit of a break. It doesn’t take too long before you want to get back on the ice. Now, when you know you’re going to have a long summer, you try to think about anything else BUT hockey. Just let the mind rest for a little bit. But I would like to start as soon as possible.”
Bergenheim is trying not to think of his forthcoming contract negotiations. I couldn’t help but think of them as I stood listening to him. I offered my assistance in pleading his case to keep him. He smiled and told me it wouldn’t be necessary. He feels he has a good working relationship with the NY Islanders and whatever happens will be for the best.
Bergenheim also has a good working relationship with me. Even when I’ve had to call him out in print, he knew where my heart was. He thanked me for all my support over the years. “No, I really do appreciate it.” He said to me, looking so much more the man than the boy I first met in 2003. I told him how I even tracked down a fellow NY Islanders Country message board member from Sweden who would translate and send me videos when he was in Frolunda. “Really?” he laughed.
While prior contract negotiations between Bergenheim and the Islanders may not have been easy, I am hoping this one will be less contentious. At only 26, the same age as Matt Moulson, Bergenheim still has a lot of energy and a lot to offer this young team. His speed and skating skill are assets and he is already well entrenched in Scott Gordon’s “system.” But at a current salary of $925,000, if his agent is looking for a large increase in salary, the conversation may be short.
All I can hope for is that Bergenheim realizes his true value and the value of playing on this team. If not, I may be looking at “My Boy Sean” in some other team’s jersey. I hope that’s not the case.
How about you?