BOSTON (AP) — Patrice Bergeron was just 22 years old when a serious concussion jeopardized his career.
Now, less than two weeks before his 28th birthday, one of the NHL's best two-way forwards is under contract for the next nine seasons and hopes to retire with the only team he's played for, the Boston Bruins.
Bergeron signed an eight-year, $52 million extension Friday that starts once his current three-year, $15 million deal expires after next season.
"We don't want to go anywhere else and so it was an easy decision for me and my family," the Bruins alternate captain said in a conference call.
Bergeron's extension came two days after the Bruins re-signed goalie Tuukka Rask, a restricted free agent, to another eight-year contract. It's worth $56 million even though he just completed his first full season as the team's No. 1 goalie.
General manager Peter Chiarelli was eager to keep two core players who were instrumental in Boston's run to the Stanley Cup finals.
"We want to try and get these guys locked up," he said, "the pillars of the team."
Chiarelli acknowledged the danger in such long-term contracts, knowing that performance can diminish and injuries can increase.
"You accept a lot of the risks," he said, "but with a person of Patrice's character ... who we've closely monitored his recovery over the years — and it's not without risk. But Patrice is a terrific character guy and he's shown his resiliency. So we're comfortable with the risks."
Bergeron learned early how a promising career can be put in peril.
He was off to a strong start in 2007-08 with three goals and four assists in 10 games. But he didn't play again that season after sustaining a grade-three concussion and a broken nose when he was checked into the end-boards by Philadelphia defenseman Randy Jones.
Bergeron said he didn't think much then about how the concussion might affect his future.
"It never really crossed my mind at that time," he said. "I was really just trying to stay in the moment and try to get back on my feet and get good again. I wasn't really thinking about the future and long term."
Now he has one Stanley Cup championship, in 2011, and one bid that fell just two wins short when the Chicago Blackhawks clinched the title in six games on June 24.
The prospect of contending for another Cup was "a huge factor" in his decision to stay in Boston.