November 14, 2011

From NEHJ: One crazy year for Bruins' Marchand

By Jesse Connolly

When the first month of the 2010-11 season came to a close and Brad Marchand found himself 28 games into his NHL career without a goal, many began to wonder what exactly convinced the Bruins to have the undersized winger break camp with the big club.Brad Marchand interacts with fans during the B's victory parade in June. (Getty)

Those who didn’t foresee the impact of the forward’s feisty ways or weren’t aware of his wealth of individual and team success throughout his days in the QMJHL and the AHL were simply perplexed when it came to coach Claude Julien’s decision to pencil Marchand in on the fourth line — or anywhere, for that matter — every night.

Among those befuddled by the presence of No. 63 was Michael Felger, co-host of the afternoon sports radio show “Felger and Mazz” on 98.5 The Sports Hub. One now-infamous caller, who identified himself as “Rick from Natick,” shared Felger’s sentiments.

“You’re gonna love me. I don’t like ‘Marshmont,’” the fan said, undoubtedly intentionally mispronouncing the winger’s name in a thick, Boston accent. “I don’t understand ‘Marshmont.’ I don’t even know why he’s on the team.”

Felger’s co-host, Tony Massarotti, also chimed in.

“I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that if the Bruins somehow end up having a great year,” Massarotti said, “that Marchand’s not going to be the reason why.”

Swing. And. A. Miss.

Once he notched his first goal Nov. 1, Marchand took off and never looked back. After a season in which he earned the Seventh Player Award, established himself as one the game’s top agitators, set a team record for playoff goals by a rookie and scored twice in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals to give the Bruins their first championship in 39 years, Marchand has gone from forgettable spare part to cult hero — all in less than a calendar year.

Last fall, the young forward was focused on getting acclimated to the NHL. Now, he’s trying to get used to his rock-star status throughout the Hub of Hockey.

“It’s been a lot different this year, coming in after the Cup,” Marchand said. “No one in the city knew who I was. I never got recognized. Now this year it’s a lot different. It’s tough to go anywhere. I’m starting to wear ball caps and stuff, just so I can get a little bit of privacy.”

Anonymity is long gone for the 23-year-old, but he’s certainly embracing his newfound fame.

“It’s a little different, but it’s a lot of fun,” Marchand said. “At a time like this where the fans are so wild and love our team so much, it’s just a great time and I’m trying to enjoy it all.”

One particular night of enjoyment in June cast the national spotlight on the Nova Scotia native and his teammates. After capturing the Stanley Cup in Vancouver, the Bruins returned to New England and ventured down to Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut to celebrate their feat.

In a world where no soul leaves home without their smart phone or their digital camera, it didn’t take long for pictures to surface, including shots off a shirtless, fedora-wearing Marchand with drinks in each hand, dancing up on the bar. The images were soon fodder on numerous blogs and Facebook pages across the globe.

But rather than try to distance himself from the events of the evening, Marchand doesn’t believe there’s anything to regret. If ever there was a night to party it up, that was the one.

“That night was incredible,” he said. “We deserved it. We deserved a night like that. We accomplished so much. It was something that we all enjoyed. There’s no living it down. It was a good time and good memories.”

Now that the season is in full swing, the number of nights he spends gallivanting around Boston have been scaled back.

“Now they’re a little different,” Marchand said. “Back when we won, they were pretty wild. We had some good times. I just go out and have fun. I like to have fun, to enjoy myself and be social and stuff. It’s such a short summer, and it’s tough right now. Now I’m just trying to rest, so it’s pretty relaxed right now.”

On nights in, Marchand enjoys lounging on the couch and playing “Call of Duty” with his teammates. Tyler Seguin — a fellow rookie last season — is among them, as the two have formed a tight bond over the past year.

“We’re great buddies,” Marchand said of their friendship. “He’s a lot of fun, a great kid, and he means well. We get along great. We’re both young, having fun, and we’re doing something we love for our job. There’s nothing better. We’re very close and we have a lot of fun together.”

While the 19-year-old Seguin — pictured right alongside Marchand in those infamous Foxwoods photos — all but pleaded the Fifth when asked about their adventures together, the Bruins’ No. 2 overall pick at the 2010 draft certainly didn’t mind doling out some good-natured ribbing.

Marchand was named to Boston.com’s list of the 25 Most Stylish Bostonian’s for 2011, an accolade that blew Seguin’s mind when he heard the news.

“I started laughing and said it must be April Fool’s,” Seguin said. “Bradley has his own style, but he shouldn’t be nominated as one of the top-dressed people in Boston, that’s for sure.”

So how would Marchand himself describe his sense of style?

“I don’t know, unique I guess,” he said. “I don’t have one kind of style. I like to mix a couple things in so I just like to have fun with it.”

One of the elements he’s now known for mixing in is Ninja Turtles attire, as Marchand always was a huge fan growing up and can be regularly seen wearing hats and T-shirts that sport the heroes in a half shell.

“Oh, forever,” Marchand said when asked how far back his obsession goes. “Way back when I was a couple years old. It’s funny because my parents and I were talking about it last night, all the action figures I had. I love it. They were my favorite TV characters when I was a kid.”

To no one’s surprise, the player that clenched the jersey of Canucks forward Daniel Sedin and clocked him with four left-handed jabs during Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals is quite the character himself — both on and off the ice.

“I feel like he’s the same way off the ice. He’s kind of a little rat,” a grinning Seguin said. “For you to have a fun in life, you’ve got to be a good guy off the ice. He definitely has all the boys’ support, and we’re always going to have his back, even though he likes to talk trash on the ice. It works out for him.”

The support for Marchand, of course, has spread far beyond the Bruins’ dressing room. Fans across the region have an unwavering appreciation for the winger’s uncanny ability to get under his opponent’s skin, his tremendously clutch play and his vibrant personality.

Ever-sarcastic teammate Shawn Thornton, however, certainly has his theories about the widespread adoration for No. 63.

“Charlestown wears my jersey,” Thornton told Boston.com on the eve of the Stanley Cup parade in June. “Young girls wear Seguin’s jerseys, we figured that much out. I’m assuming people with a screw loose wear Marchand jerseys. I don’t know why you’d wear that thing.”

For a town that’s become accustomed to the robotic, mild-mannered nature of both the Patriots and Red Sox (before all the fuss about fried chicken and booze, of course), someone like Marchand that’s full of life and brimming with emotion is easy to latch onto. This is, after all, the same city that was home to the Big, Bad Bruins of the ’70s.

Marchand, who signed a two-year deal with the team in September, may not possess the imposing stature of his cherished predecessors, but he’s certainly “bad” in all the right ways. With an edgy style of play that seems fueled by a pinch of craziness, a penchant for chirping and undeniable flair for the dramatic, No. 63 has won over every fan of the Black and Gold — even the ones who so vehemently had written him off a year ago.

“I think in Boston, people like hard-working guys and stuff like that,” Marchand said when asked about his lasting legacy down the line. “I just want to be known for that and be someone these fans embrace and enjoy.”

On nights where he’s looking to avoid a hero’s welcome, he might be able to pull the visor of his hat down low and blend in. But for all that he’s done to endear himself to a city that waited nearly four decades to revel in hockey glory, Marchand likely will never have to pay for a drink in this town ever again.

Surely even Rick from Natick must understand that.

This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Jesse Connolly is the Bruins beat writer for New England Hockey Journal. He can be reached atjconnolly@hockeyjournal.com