2023 Winter Classic: Savor these Patrice Bergeron vs. Sidney Crosby matchups

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2023 Winter Classic: Savor these Bergeron vs. Crosby matchups originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

BOSTON -- The Winter Classic is a spectacle, and this year's event will be no different.

Fenway Park looks absolutely tremendous and will be a great host for Monday afternoon's star-studded matchup between two elite franchises in the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins.

But beyond the pomp and circumstance of the NHL's marquee outdoor event lies an interesting storyline.

This Winter Classic could be one of the final times Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron and Penguins captain Sidney Crosby square off on a grand stage.

Winter Classic weather: Latest forecast, ice conditions at Fenway Park

It's kind of hard to believe, given the success of the Bruins and Penguins over the last 15 years or so, that they've battled against each other in only one playoff series during that span. Bergeron and the B's got the best of the favored Penguins in the 2013 Eastern Conference Final in a shocking sweep.

That's why when fans watch the 2023 Winter Classic, either at the park or on television, they should take a moment to appreciate these two players.

"They represent everything that's great about hockey," Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said about Crosby and Bergeron on Sunday. "They're good people. They're great ambassadors for the sport. They're terrific players. They've been such key contributors with their respective organizations and cities. I don't know or haven't coached two players like these two guys who have such high character and combine that with their elite play in their own way. It's been a privilege to coach both of them, I'm obviously still coaching Sid. But certainly these are two guys I have the utmost respect for."

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Bergeron came into the league in 2003-04 as an 18-year-old rookie who earned a spot on the roster. It didn't take long for him to become an important two-way player. Fast forward almost two decades and Bergeron has a sparkling resume that includes a Stanley Cup title and a record five Frank J. Selke trophies, among numerous other honors.

Even in Year 19, Bergeron remains the best two-way player in hockey. He has tallied 30 points (15 goals, 15 assists) in 36 games and is on pace to score 20-plus goals for the 10th consecutive season. His defensive metrics are absolutely fantastic.

"He's been so consistent. He came into the league a pretty responsible player at 18 years old. A lot of guys at that age are trying to figure out the game defensively," Crosby said of Bergeron after Sunday's practice.

"He just had such a maturity to his game. I think it kinda fit his personality. He's always been ready for what that next step is. He's a great leader and great person. I remember I was his roommate at the World Juniors when I was 17 and he had half a year under his belt in the NHL. I've been fortunate enough to play with him over the years at different points. It's always a big challenge playing against him."

Crosby has not only competed against Bergeron, he's also played with him on many occasions for Team Canada. They were both on Canada's Olympic gold medal-winning rosters in 2010 and 2014. They also won the 2005 World Junior gold medal on one of the most stacked Canadian WJC rosters of all time. They are two of the 11 Canadian members of the Triple Gold Club (Stanley Cup title, Olympic gold, World Championship gold). They also are two of the nine active players with 1,000 or more career points.

They represent everything that's great about hockey. They're good people. They're great ambassadors for the sport. They're terrific players.

Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan on Bergeron and Crosby

Crosby also still ranks among the league's top players in Year 18. He leads the Penguins with 43 points (19 goals, 24 assists) in 36 games. Few players over the last 40 years can match Crosby's resume, one that includes three Stanley Cup titles, two Hart trophies and many other awards.

"It's a great relationship," Bergeron said of his friendship with Crosby. "Lots of respect for him and who he is as a person first and foremost, and the player with everything he's accomplished, and also the way that he's done it, and the way he's represented the league and us players over the years is pretty special."

The league is very fortunate to have so many supremely talented young players, and we'll see a few of them on the Fenway Park ice Monday afternoon. But if you were in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, the first two players you'd want on the ice in a high-pressure situation are two guys drafted before 2006.

It's remarkable that Crosby and Bergeron are still elite players this deep into their careers. And they don't just set an example for the next generation with their on-ice abilities, they also do it with their leadership, professionalism and impact in the community.

Savor these Bergeron vs. Crosby matchups -- who knows how many we have left.