On Wednesday, April 22, the National Hockey League announced the three finalist for the Frank J. Selke Award as nominated by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. The Selke recognizes “the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.” This year’s three finalists, listed alphabetically, are Patrice Bergeron (Boston Bruins), Anze Kopitar (Los Angeles Kings) and Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks)—the same three who went 1-2-3 respectively last year, which represents the first time in 18 years that the same three players have been named to the finalist berths for any trophy in consecutive seasons. The last time was in 1995-96 and 1996-97 when Paul Kariya, Adam Oates and Teemu Selanne were the finalists for the Lady Byng Trophy.
The finalists for the Selke were submitted at the conclusion of the regular season and the winner will be announced at the 2015 NHL Awards to be held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Bergeron’s nomination marks the fourth consecutive year that he has been recognized for his two-way style of play, something he takes great pride in.
“Definitely another huge honor. It always speaks to the way that your team helps you and by the way that you try to play the game,” Bergeron said Thursday morning. “And for myself, it’s … I take a lot of pride in my two-way game so it’s definitely special to be nominated with two great players like Anze and Jonathan.”
It wouldn’t be Bergeron speaking if he didn’t immediately mention his team. He always makes a point to include his team whenever he is being singled out as a player. Unfortunately for Bergeron, the Boston Bruins did not make it into the playoffs this year—the first time since the 2006-07 season—a bitter pill for the team, and that includes the impressive center.
“Right now it’s hard just to watch some hockey and it definitely hurts. I’ve always said that it’s always about the team and individual awards don’t really matter, so I can’t be standing here and say that it helps after a year like we’ve had,” he said. “It’s an honor. I’m definitely not going to say otherwise, but I definitely would rather be in the playoffs right now.”
Bergeron is a team-only player. He believes that they have success as a team and they fail as a team. And while two of this year’s finalists are on teams that did not advance to the playoffs, Kopitar is the other, that is an abnormality. However, the center’s impressive skills at the dot could not be ignored—a league leading total face-offs (1,951), wins (1,175) and winning percentage (60.2%) on the season. That’s a lot of time waiting for the puck to drop and ensuring that your team gets possession of it. His total number of face-offs this season was the result of injuries to the other centerman who usually takes a number of them during any given game—David Krejci—who missed almost half of the season in total games combined over two different injuries.
“It was definitely a first this year, you know, the amount of face-offs that I was taking. I would say overall more in my zone, in the defensive zone, I was taking a lot, and really starting a lot of my shifts there, which is fine,” Bergeron explained “It’s definitely something that I like to do and it’s a good challenge to go back on the offense and try to create some offense out of it. But it was definitely different when David [Krejci] went down and then when [he] was playing the wing with me. That’s definitely something I had to do more; sometimes taking draws for our other lines. But at the end of the day it’s part of my job and I have to do good to the fullest and make sure I win the face-offs when I’m asked to do that.”
Those who have interviewed him before are not surprised by his humility. Despite the other impressive statistics measuring puck possession and shot attempts, for Bergeron it is about whether or not he believes he did his best. And what he expects of himself must be the equivalent to the heights that an Olympic high jumper can scale.
“I’m always trying to play a two-way game and try to play that the best that I can and this year was definitely, for everyone, it wasn’t our best year and so it’s myself included,” Bergeron said when talking about his defensive abilities. “But at the same time, you know, I definitely try to leave everything on the ice every time I step out there and I felt like I’ve done that for sure.”
Bergeron has been honored as the Selke Award winner in two of his previous three finalist nominations in 2012 and 2014. And though it may seem like he doesn’t understand that there are times that it’s okay to be acknowledged as an individual in a team sport, perhaps that is because he has an internal level that he strives to achieve. Given how much of himself that he has left out on the ice in past seasons, one can only guess at the insane standard to which he holds himself.