February 4, 2014

Bergey Prepared for Well-Desereved Recognition

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Jake Bergey will become just the third player to have his number retired by the Philadelphia Wings, joining Dallas Eliuk and Tom Maracheck. (Philadelphia Wings)

Jake Bergey remembers it well.

It was the spring of 2001 and Bergey and his Philadelphia teammates went to Toronto to play for the NLL championship. The Wings were everybody's underdog. The Rock had won two straight titles and were going for three in a row to cap a league-best 11-3 regular season.

''I remember not many people giving us much of a chance,'' Bergey recalls. ''I remember seeing Rock players on TV talking dynasty.''

But the Wings had been a second-best 10-4 and were a determined bunch. Coach Tony Resch had his players pumped up.

''We kind of had a chip on our shoulders,'' says Bergey. ''We went out and took it to them. That was one of the strongest teams I played on, for sure.''

Philadelphia jumped ahead 8-3 and survived a late Toronto rally to win 9-8. Goaltender Dallas Eliuk was the MVP. Many players have come and gone in the ensuing years. None of been able to do what the 2001 squad accomplished.

On Saturday night, before the Edmonton Rush-Wings home game, the team will give Bergey much-deserved recognition when his No. 66 joins the sweaters of Eliuk and another 2001 star, Tom Marechek, in retirement. Bergey spent all 10 of his pro indoor lacrosse seasons with the Wings. He played 133 regular-season games and scored 256 goals, which was second-most in team history. He also was on the 1998 championship Wings team.

He succeeded with zero box lacrosse experience coming out of the Salisbury State University field lacrosse program. He helped that school win NCAA Division III championships before taking his aggressive attacking style to the indoor pro league.

''My box experience to that point was being a Wings season ticket holder,'' he recalls. ''But the indoor game suited my style of lacrosse. I was a bigger guy and quick for my size. I had pretty good stick skills. I just really took to the indoor game. I loved every minute of it. I was a student of the game and tried to learn the best I could.''

Rock defenseman Pat Merrill remembers the bruises.

''It was never fun playing against Jake Bergey,'' says Merrill. ''There were some fierce rivalries back in the early 2000s between the Rock and the Wings. Jake combined toughness, speed, size and really nice hands. He was a powerful player. He was a big part of that Wings franchise for a long time.''

Wings owner Mike French always appreciated Bergey's presence in game-night lineups.

''He could score, make plays and, most importantly, with his physical presence he could create space for players like Tom Marechek,'' says French. ''He was always a character guy with a team-first attitude.''

Bergey has watched the 2014 Wings play.

''They have a lot of new faces,'' he says. ''They need to have some more time together to gell and get on the same page. I'm sure that when that happens they'll be pretty good.''

Looking at the entire NLL, ''The one thing I see that is different from when I played is how big and how strong all these guys are. The talent is obviously there and when you go down to the locker room today they all look like they're chiselled out of stone. They're all rock-solid. The lacrosse is great right now and I think it's just going to continue to grow.''

Bergey was in the third grade in Chester County, Pennsylvania, when he first picked up a lacrosse stick. His brother Jason played so he wanted to play, too.

''I took to it right away and loved playing and it obviously stuck with me.''

It's sticking with his nine-year-old son, Bret, too. He'll be starting his fourth year on a field team Jake coaches in West Bradford, Penn.

Jake is a sales manager for Biomet Orthopedics supplying hip and knee replacement parts to doctors in the Philadelphia region.

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