BRIGHTON, Mass. — Brad Marchand admits it wasn’t easy to stay out of trouble with the league this season.
The Little Ball of Hate admits he came close to going over the edge in a frothy rage late in the season in a March 5 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. Michael Ferland took a vicious run at Marcus Johansson on his second shift of the game and knocked him out for weeks with a lung contusion after lining him up and smoking him against the side boards.
Marchand admitted he took a few runs at Hurricanes players in that first period after seeing one of his teammates go down, but it also informed the different way he cools himself down these days. It was all about the angel wearing No. 37 that sits on his shoulder, and about Marchand himself maturing from somebody who used to routinely look for trouble.
“That Carolina game where they ran MoJo was a game where things can happen,” admitted Marchand, to NBCSportsBoston.com. “You take a run at a guy like that and then guys start running around. I remember taking a few runs at guys and getting [myself] out of position. We came in after the first, and me and Bergie had a little chat. He talked me off the edge a little bit.
“That’s where before I might not have been able to get out of that area. But I was able to dial it back in and just get back into the game. That was the closest I came [to trouble].”
While Patrice Bergeron certainly earns an assist for the first intermission conversation that calmed down his combustible buddy, the credit mostly goes to Marchand for staying out of big league trouble this season for the very first time in his NHL career. Marchand avoided any suspensions and managed to steer clear of the dangerous hits that have injured opponents in the past, and it’s probably no coincidence it also eventually led to the best season of an All-Star NHL career.
Marchand became the first Bruins player to crack the 100-point mark in nearly 20 years, and finished with something approaching Hart Trophy numbers with 36 goals and 100 points in 79 games this season. But it’s the ability to maintain discipline and stay out of the purview of the NHL Department of Player Safety that might have been his proudest accomplishment this season despite also cracking the century mark.
“It was definitely a goal [for the season]. I’d say I’m more relieved,” said Marchand, when asked by NBCSportsBoston.com if he felt “pride” after not running afoul of the NHL this season. “You still never know what’s going to happen down the road, but it’s a step in the right direction... I guess that’s the biggest thing. You move forward, take it as a positive and try to continue improving on it. But there’s a lot of relief that I’ve made it this far [without an incident].
“It was probably my biggest goal at the beginning of the year. Everybody has different goals, but that was my biggest one: Managing my emotions. There were a couple of times where I was definitely close to stepping into that area where bad things can happen. It felt good to kind of reel it back in and not let anything bad happen. I got through it so far, but there’s time left [in the playoffs]. I need to keep controlling it for the next little while and then we move on to next year.”
The Bruins agitator was quick to admit he also needs to get through the postseason without major incident to consider himself trouble-free for the entire season. But he freely admits that last spring’s licking incidents that consequently drew the ire of the league, and perhaps cost his team the favor of some referees during a postseason where a string of non-calls really hurt the Black and Gold, are something that finally got his full attention after years of playing right on the edge.
“[Last spring] was definitely part of it. That kind of blew up to be bigger than I expected. The biggest thing was [my] kind of not understanding the implications of some of the things that were going on. It was my biggest downfall is not really looking ahead to see the future impact of things I was doing,” said Marchand, when asked by NBCSportsBoston.com how much last spring’s playoffs impacted his new-found discipline this season. “I haven’t always agreed with my suspensions and how things have always played out, so I’m not going to say that was everything. But [the licking incident and its backlash] was one of those things where the group was taking some heat and it was bad timing. That probably sparked [the change] more than anything else.”
Clearly it feels like one of the final turning points for the 30-year-old Marchand turning into a complete NHL player in all facets of the game. He’s always been a gifted scorer and one of the best two-way left wingers in the NHL who plays hard, has become a good team leader and has formed with Bergeron into arguably the best duo in Bruins history.
But eliminating the erratic moments where he would lose control was one of the final pieces to Marchand putting together a complete game, and his head coach certainly noticed that No. 63 is living up to his word.
“I think it’s great because last season he stood up and said was going to go out and do that. And he certainly has his doubters. Rightfully so because he’s been in hot water before,” said Cassidy. “But he’s kept his nose clean, true to his word. I don’t think he’s even been close to where you’d think, ‘What’s going on? He’s going over the edge.’ He backed it up.
“It’s the playoffs, so hopefully Toronto doesn’t have some game plan to get him off. I can’t imagine he would go down that road because he understands how valuable he is to the team. He probably enjoys it because he was able to keep it clean for the last six or seven months now, and he’s probably gained more respect for how dominant of a player he can be.”
To wit, here’s what Marchand said last season after the lost playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning: “The biggest thing for me is taking a pretty hard look in the mirror and realize that some of the things I’m doing have much bigger consequences. The last thing I ever want to do is bring embarrassment to my teammates and the organization like I did. I have to be a lot better. I know I have said that in the past, but I think that’s got to be the thing that I really work on the most.”
Marchand knew he needed to work on this self-control more than anything else in his game, and it has unwittingly unlocked his greatness as well as a 100-point scorer.
Now comes the postseason.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are really the boiling point for all NHL competitors, so Marchand is going to be tested early and often by opponents trying to get him to lose control. So now will be the real testing ground for the Nose Face Killah and his new-found self-control when it matters most for him, and for his hockey club.
Marchand proved over the course of a full NHL regular season that he’s capable of staying out of trouble, and now he’s just a couple of months away from having the first clean record of his entire standout career with the Bruins. It’s certainly a major factor playing in the Bruins' favor as they get ready to embark on another playoff journey, and revisit the opponent in Toronto where all the licking trouble started last season for the B’s rabble-rouser.
It’s also time to give Marchand credit where due that he’s made a necessary change, and he’s sticking true to his word from last spring.
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