To Chris Bergeron, Miami University was first “Miami Ohio.” To Miami University, Chris Bergeron was first a hard-working, 18-year-old hockey player from Wallaceburg, Ontario, Canada.
“I prided myself on scoring and stuff,” Bergeron said, then laughed. “But I don’t think I scored enough. What I always did was work hard. That was what I always fell back on. That’s what I brought to the table. By no means was I a star.”
Now, with his collegiate hockey career 30 years behind him, Bergeron has become a hard-working coach tasked with revitalizing a struggling Miami hockey program.
“The Brotherhood” has recorded four straight sub-.500 seasons and endured a 15-game winless streak and nine-game losing streak last season.
But, “Berg” has been here before.
Growing up throughout the province of Ontario, Bergeron started playing hockey when he was four years old, because it’s what most Canadian kids do.
Some Canadian kids get older and better, and Bergeron did, too.
He didn’t dream of becoming a professional National Hockey League player when he was younger, but he loved the game and played through the junior hockey ranks as he grew older.
Bergeron, a self-described “poor man’s offensive guy at best,” caught the eye of former Miami hockey assistant coach Mike Norton with his effort and an impressive year on the stats sheet.
After a visit to campus with his mom and dad, Bergeron stumbled into committing to Miami hockey. During a routine Monday-evening phone call, Norton handed the phone to then-head coach Bill Davidge who offered Bergeron a scholarship.
As far as Bergeron remembers, he excitedly committed over the phone.
“I don’t even know if I could even appreciate what that offer meant to me,” Bergeron said. “Looking back, it meant everything. My life has turned out the way it has because of Miami University and college hockey.”
Looking back, Bergeron knows how hard it is to play through a coaching change and a record-breaking terrible season.
Former head hockey coach George Gwozdecky took over for Davidge before Bergeron’s freshman season, and his sophomore season (1990-91) is the last time Miami hockey had been winless for more than 15 games in a row.
Bergeron’s second season was Enrico Blasi’s first, as that losing season and the two following seasons brought the two Canadians together.
During Bergeron’s senior year and Blasi’s junior year, the RedHawks won their first Central Collegiate Hockey Association Championship in 1992-93.
Seven years later, Bergeron and Blasi reunited behind the bench to try for another conference championship.
For seven years after, Bergeron bounced around the minor professional hockey leagues, a healthy college graduate who was unable to stop playing the game.
“I just,” Bergeron said and grasped for words. “I loved hockey.”
His time in the minor leagues didn’t compare to his four years at Miami, and he missed the relationships with the people he had met.
While Bergeron played for the Cincinnati Cyclones, Miami hockey finished the 1998-99 season with an 11-20-5 record before Blasi was named head coach.
After Blasi accepted the job, in the summer of 1999, Bergeron remembers Blasi calling him: “The two assistants I have, I’m going to have for one more year, but I do want you to start thinking about this.”
“That’s what I did,” Bergeron said.
A year and some thinking later, Blasi called Bergeron back and asked Bergeron to be his assistant coach, “Hey, what about coming back and doing this together?”
“The rest is history,” Bergeron said. “I felt like it was the next best thing to playing, because you get to come to the rink every day. But, other than that, I wasn’t sure what I was walking into.”
Bergeron brought an easy-going smile and comfort to Oxford and the 27-year-old Blasi, who had been the youngest head coach in NCAA Division I hockey history.
He didn’t bring any coaching experience.
“I was a player at heart,” Bergeron said. “I needed to be told, ‘You’re not a player anymore.’ First of all, I was never good enough as a player. And, yes, I would jump in on the drills and get embarrassed,” Bergeron said and laughed. “I felt like I was still a player.”
Bergeron’s player-like mindset, though hard to shake early in his coaching career, drove him to form relationships with his players like the ones that had been meaningful to him at Miami – the relationships he missed when he was playing the game he loved.
After Bergeron coached under Blasi for 10 years, he travelled 180 miles northeast to Bowling Green State University (BGSU) and accepted the head coaching position with the Falcons’ program.
“People can’t prepare you for that switch. They just can’t,” Bergeron said. “To me, it’s like being a dad. When people said, ‘This is what it’s going to be like being a dad,’ I’m not saying they were wrong, I’m just saying you don’t know until you go through it. It was the same thing.”
As both a father and newly-named head coach, Bergeron’s early years were hard. Bergeron’s BGSU team finished under .500 during his first three years before pulling the Falcons to an 18-15-6 record in 2013-14.
Focused on the details and the process, Bergeron most recently coached BGSU to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1990.
Bergeron fell in love with Miami 31 years ago.
“It was a no-brainer, it was more of a question of, ‘Do they want me to come?’ versus ‘Do I want to come?’” Bergeron said.
Thirty-one years later, the decision to leave Bowling Green and return to become head coach at his alma mater wasn’t a “no brainer,” but it was pretty close.
“The one place that would get my attention was the one place that called,” Bergeron said on April 9 at his introductory press conference.
In the familiar place, Bergeron finds the hockey program he’s coaching in a familiar state. He’s been here before as a player, an assistant and a head coach.
When asked about the turnaround he’s tasked with and his game plan, Bergeron plans to fuel himself with “A Warrior’s Call” by Volbeat, other heavy metal and preferably Tim Hortons coffee, though he’ll make do with any kind of hot coffee with milk.
And he remembers what his Miami strength and conditioning coach told him after the coaching change.
He told his Miami hockey players the same after he arrived on campus.
“Pick a side of the line, and, if you’re not with us, you’re against us, and we’ve got no time for you.”