January 8, 2012

Marchand defenders wrongfully accused of sipping Bruins' Kool-Aid

By Jesse Connolly

Throughout my 26 years of existence, there have been countless atrocities that have taken place in the wide world of sports which only a certifiably insane human being could even consider defending. They are the heinous acts in which one person put the well-being, career or – in some extremes – the life of another in jeopardy with undeniable intent and full cognizance of the likely consequences. 

Brad Marchand’s hit on Sami Salo during the second period of Saturday’s game between Boston and Vancouver wasn’t one of them, but judging by the reactions of some, anyone making a case for the B’s winger is nothing more than a pom-pom waving, delirious fan-boy who spends all of his days drinking straight from an ice-cold mug of Bruins’ Kool-Aid and only sees the world through black and gold glasses.

Upon viewing the hit live from way up on the ninth floor down the other end of the ice at TD Garden, I was floored by the referee’s decision to give No. 63 the gate. Wasn’t this essentially on par with the hit Dan Hamhuis laid on Milan Lucic during the Stanley Cup finals last season which warranted no penalty, no phone call from the league and certainly no suspension?

After my immediate reaction was retweeted, I suddenly became the target of widespread outrage for finding nothing wrong with the incident. I was led to believe Marchand was the scum of the Earth, a true villain who wanted nothing more than to take advantage of a vulnerable opponent and inflict an obscene amount of damage.

And for a moment there, having been swayed by the masses and unable to catch a replay as of yet, I apologized. But ultimately I did get to review a hit that earned Marchand a major clipping penalty, a game misconduct and a likely suspension. I watched it over and over, and then over some more. In my opinion, both sides have an argument.

In viewing the replay, the following is clear to these two eyes: Salo came in from the blue-line at half-speed, both players were skating toward the puck along the boards, both slowed up upon reaching the puck. At that point, it is undeniably clear that Marchand made his torso parallel to the ice and lunged upward, making initial contact with the Canucks d-man near the upper thigh.

But, while some feel as though they can simply jump to conclusions and assume the intent of both parties, guessing what was going on in the minds of either player isn’t an exact science and hardly something that anyone – be it a fan, a writer or even a psychologist – is qualified to do.

So, we must tackle the questions that arise one-by-one.

Did Marchand intend to injure Salo? We don’t know for certain. Did he think a big hit would give his teammates and the sellout crowd on hand a jolt? Probably. Did he fear being injured by the oncoming defenseman? Possibly.

Standing at 5-foot-9 on paper and clocking in at 183 lbs, Marchand is six inches and nearly 30 lbs smaller than Salo. If the undersized winger really thought the Vancouver rearguard was coming in to lay him out, what were his options to defend himself? Was he supposed to stand up straight, get knocked over by a bigger man and, in turn, lose a potentially costly battle for a loose puck?

Conversely, Marchand likely knows that – while it may have been his only move, given his stature – such collisions can be dangerous for those on the receiving end. But, let’s not forget, the hip-check doesn’t always work out for those dishing them out either – as was proven by Hamhuis, who suffered an undisclosed injury last June and missed the remainder of the series against Boston after laying out Lucic.

Many were in a tizzy after Bruins coach Claude Julien elected to go the self-defense route when asked about his thoughts on the matter, stating that Marchand was merely protecting himself in the situation.

Those looking to make mountains out of mole hills have now equated the situation to a jaywalker firing a grenade launcher at the first sight of oncoming traffic, as though Marchand took overreacting to unseen levels. Unconvinced by the B's bench boss, they’ve gone and painted Julien as nothing but a hypocrite for ever-so blasphemously defending the actions of one of his own players while shaking his fist at those of others.

In doing so, the proverbial lines have now been blurred. Marchand is now lumped in with the Matt Cookes of the universe. He is now the cheap shot artist du jour, and nothing more than a rat that must shape up or be expunged from the National Hockey League.

But what Marchand did on Saturday wasn’t and never will be comparable to any of the grotesque acts of years past. This isn’t Marty McSorley laying a two-handed chop on Donald Brasher’s dome. This isn’t Chris Simon stomping on Jarko Ruutu with the sharp blade of his skate. This isn’t Todd Bertuzzi maliciously jumping Steve Moore from behind – a disturbing incident that led to a young, up-and-coming player being paralyzed.

What happened Saturday was different. Those that believe Marchand was guilty of wrongdoing have every right to think that. However, those that defend No. 63’s actions are in the same boat. In this case, unless you’re a mind-reader, nothing is cut and dry. The despicable actions of McSorley, Simon and Bertuzzi were overwhelmingly reprehensible. They were moments of inhumanity in which their intentions were undeniable.

In this scribe’s opinion, anyone taking a stand against Marchand and deeming themselves an objective saint for doing so needs to promptly dismount from their high horse. Those defending his actions in Saturday’s game – as much as it may pain you – not only have a point, but have every right to express it.

Their opinions are not the equivalent of saying that dinosaurs never existed or that man never walked on the moon. No one is crazy for expecting Marchand to be punished by the NHL, but neither is anyone stating otherwise.

Now if you’d please excuse me, I must go put away my pom-poms and refill my mug of Bruins Kool-Aid.