Gary Bergman was a solid all-around defenseman in his 12-year NHL tenure. A fine skater with a knack for making smart decisions on offense, he also took a physical approach to the game when guarding his end of the ice. Known primarily for his decade long service in Detroit, Bergman also impressed as a member of Team Canada during the 1972 Summit Series.
A native of northwestern Ontario, Bergman enjoyed a fine amateur career in neighboring Manitoba. After two seasons with the Winnipeg Braves of the Manitoba junior league, he joined that city's pro franchise in the Western Hockey League. Bergman gained experience and solidified his status as an intriguing prospect while skating with four different AHL squads from 1960 to 1964.
He joined the Detroit Red Wings in 1964-65 and looked very comfortable as a freshman. In 58 games, Bergman held back his offensive instincts while focusing on his defensive work. Gradually he gained confidence and seniority on the team. He played solidly when the Wings reached the 1966 Stanley Cup finals and lost to Montreal in six games. Little did he know that he'd only see action in one more playoff series in his career.
His well-rounded play made him useful on both the power-play and penalty-killing units for the Wings. Although he incurred his share of penalties, Bergman wasn't considered a surly opponent on the ice. He rarely looked for trouble but also never backed down from an onrushing opponent, whether he was a fancy scorer or a power forward.
A huge compliment came Bergman's way when Harry Sinden and John Ferguson invited him to play with Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series. He played an important defensive role in all eight games and chipped in with three assists. Bergman recounted the day he was asked to play for his country: "Harry called me Sunday morning. Janie and the kids and I were just going out the door to church, and I had to stop. Janie was saying, 'Would you get off the damn phone, we have to get to church.' It was Harry Sinden on the phone asking me if I'd be part of the team."
Bergman's consistent play often went unnoticed in the early 1970s. All eyes were on young superstars like Bobby Orr and Brad Park. In addition, the Red Wings were a mediocre team that received less attention each year, especially with the retirement of Gordie Howe and the trading of Frank Mahovlich to Montreal. During this period, Bergman derived much satisfaction from his work in his community and was particularly involved with helping disabled children and adults. He was one of the most liked NHLers off the ice. In 1973 he was named co-winner of the Charlie Conacher Humanitarian Award.
After more than 600 games in a Detroit uniform, Bergman was traded to the Minnesota North Stars for fellow veteran blueliner Ted Harris. He was presented a plane ticket out of town because, as a veteran on the team, he felt obligated to speak out when he disagreed with the decisions of coach Ned Harkness. In the off-season, he was reacquired by the Wings and posted a respectable 30 points. Another trade sent Bergman to Kansas City, where he played his final year with the second year Scouts.
Bergman retired with 367 points in 838 regular season games. In nearly a decade and a half of NHL service, he had the chance to play in only 21 post-season games, 12 of them in 1966.
Gary Bergman died on December 8, 2000, after an eight-month battle with cancer. He was 62.