BostonBruins.com - As we look back at the 2013-14 season, there were many memorable on-ice moments that we can revisit. But perhaps the best memory, the one that sticks out the most, came away from the game.
On November 9, 2013, the Bruins welcomed friend Sam Berns to drop the ceremonial puck and serve as Assistant Equipment Manager for the team.
It was part of the first Progeria Awareness Night at TD Garden. Sam led the charge, as he had several times before, in raising awareness of the rare genetic condition that affected not only him, but hundreds of other children and teens. The Boston faithful chipped in with a hefty amount of donations to the Progeria Research Foundation.
That night, he was beaming in Black & Gold. Along with having his own stall and jersey in the locker room, Sam helped out on the bench during warmups and dropped the puck to a roar from the thousands of fans on hand.
Afterwards, Bruins Captain Zdeno Chara escorted him down the carpet to the bench, holding his hand every step of the way.
The best part of the night, though, didn't come from Boston's 3-1 win over Toronto in which Chara scored the game's first goal.
It came after the final buzzer, when Sam went on a tour of the locker room and then joined 'Big Zee' on the bench in his stall, wearing his own jersey with 'Berns' on the back.
Sam had this aura about him that made him an inspiration to everyone he met. Zee had known Sam since his first season as a Bruin in 2006-07, and he has been inspired by him ever since.
The two friends sat next to each other, and recounted their first meeting.
When they initially met, it was after a game in which Zee had scored. Sam was only around nine years old at the time. Right away, he blurted out to the Captain, "You're the hero!"
That wasn't quite accurate for the big man at the time. "No, no, you're my hero, our hero," Zee had responded.
"Little did I know that we would be friends for a really long time after that, and are still friends, so it's really - it was a positive experience from the get-go," Sam said as he sat next to his 6-foot-9 buddy.
"Since then, I've been following Sam and am really proud of what he's accomplished and what he's done for different communities and the message he sends," said Zee. "It's so encouraging and such motivation for us to see Sam coming here, and really, it's affecting every one of us, so we're obviously very thankful for that and really appreciate anytime he has time to visit us."
He turned to Sam and smiled, "So thank you."
Sam was appreciative of the fan support, too, and the standing ovation during puck drop.
"The support for the Progeria Research Foundation, and everything that we've been doing, was really special coming from everyone in this hometown of mine," he said. "I'm really honored to be part of it."
Sam admitted to dropping the puck a little more on Zee's side, putting his "fan karma" out there. "Keep coming, keep coming," laughed Zee, of that special dose of luck Sam seemed to bring every time he came to a game.
It was effortless, seeing the two of them sit there, just enjoying each others' company.
Two months later, on January 10, 2014, Sam lost his battle with Progeria at 17-years-old.
The vibrant young man and his family received an outpouring of support from all over. Countless people had seen the Foxborough, MA native's story highlighted by the HBO documentary "Life According to Sam" or had watched his powerful speech "My philosophy for a happy life," given about a month before he passed away.
Anyone who met him or has heard his story has been immediately touched and drawn to his infectious personality.
"It was big motivation for me, and obviously an inspiration to so many people to see him going through different stages of adversity, and the way he dealt with them, and how positive he was," Chara said to me after Sam had passed away. "He was just a huge inspiration and it was really fun to see him being such an icon, and representing Progeria. He helped so much to raise awareness."
"As a player, as his friend, and just a human being, I was honored to get to know him."
A few weeks after his passing, the Boston Bruins Foundation held their annual Casino Night for charity, with proceeds from the event going towards the Progeria Research Foundation.
There was also a video tribute for Sam, and Chara presented Sam's aunt, Audrey Gordon, and his father Scott with a special gift on behalf of the team, who was all in attendance.
"He was a special, special person," Chara told Sam's father. "We got you something as a team to let you know that he's always going to be with us in our memories and in our hearts, so thank you for bringing Sam to us and getting to know us. We really appreciate it."
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