BOSTON – It was about time he got the chance to strut his stuff against some opponents he didn’t have to share a locker room with.
Brad Marchand was itching to get into some real action and took advantage of his preseason debut with the Bruins against Florida Thursday night in Rochester, N.Y.
More than goals and assists, Marchand is judged by how much havoc he can wreak. In that department he was in midseason form, as he explained after practice today at TD Garden.
“Kind of the big thing I wanted to change this year was to be more of an agitator [in the NHL]. That’s something I didn’t really do last year when I was up,” said Marchand, who skated in 20 NHL games last season. “I kind of was chirping a lot out there and I got in a few guys’ faces and tripped up the goalie that one time.”
That trip of the Florida goaltender was described by one game observer as “straight out of ‘Slap Shot.’” While the Bruins don’t want Marchand to replicate every action we’ve all witnessed in the classic ‘70s flick, they might need him around to at least be the missing ingredient in their bottom six. From top to bottom, the Boston organization really doesn’t have anyone like Marchand.
“He likes to stir the pot, as we say. And he’s usually pretty good at it,” head coach Claude Julien said. “As long as he keeps that under control – where we’ve seen at time in the past he’s gone over the edge a bit – but he did a good job (Thursday) and he had the other team chirping back at him. That’s his game. That’s how he gets involved. He also made a couple of real good plays as well that created some good scoring opportunities. He was involved in a lot of stuff. He understands that even if he was here at the end of last year, he’s still in a battle to make the team.”
Making the team this fall got tougher for the 5-foot-9 package of prickliness wrapped in a No. 63 Bruins sweater because of the arrival and maturity of some of Boston’s more-heralded prospects. Jordan Caron, Joe Colborne and Max Sauve have all emerged as potential options for the Bruins depending on how much speed, size and scoring they’re looking for beyond their top six. Of course, should a couple established vets bounce back from down ’09-10 seasons, it might be best for Boston’s less-experienced forwards to get ice time in the minors until there’s room on the NHL roster.
Marchand three times exceeded 21 goals in the QMJHL and he popped in 18 as an AHL rookie two seasons ago, so he’s no slouch in the skill department. But it’s his ability to agitate that could make him an NHL regular and a factor for Boston. The Bruins’ toughest players, namely Shawn Thornton and Milan Lucic, are feared foes on the ice. However, to be blunt, they’re also the type of guys that toe the line and are more likely to retaliate than initiate. Marchand, on the other hand, makes his own mayhem.
Heck, even in the Black and White scrimmage Monday, Marchand couldn’t help himself. He hit defenseman Dennis Seidenberg straight-on, but a little lower than anyone should in an intra-squad game.
“I want to show the coaches how I can play and management how I can play. I don’t want to do that with the guys on our team, but at the same time it’s training camp and you’ve got to put your friendships aside,” Marchand explained. “They know that too and at the end of the day when you’re in the room and off the ice you’re still buddies. But you’re fighting for your life on the ice.”
“I like ‘Seids,’” continued Marchand. “He’s one of my buddies off the ice; I love talking to him. But when we’re out there, it’s a different story. I’ve got to hate him as much as I love him. I obviously felt bad after that, but it’s part of the game.”
Marchand said that at last year’s exit interviews the Bruins’ brass encouraged him to be more of himself in the NHL. That’s a sign that Boston knows it could use him to provide a different dimension. On those cold, dull nights in the middle of January, when the Minnesota Wild or a similar milquetoast opponent is lulling everyone to sleep, Marchand could provide a wake-up call. When the Bruins’ snipers are in a team-wide scoring funk, Marchand could draw that penalty that leads to the tide-turning power play.
Although his actions might not always make it seem so, Marchand also knows he has to pick his spots and be careful not to get on the wrong side of the officials.
“You’ve got to watch that. You don’t want to be a liability to your team,” he said.
Maybe now that he’s 22 and a third-year pro, Marchand will be better at knowing when it’s time to shake things up. He should feel more empowered than he did last season, when he skated for a bit on a line with Patrice Bergeron and, aside from one retaliation-causing low hit on Philadelphia’s Mike Richards, really was more of an invisible man than a rampaging monster.
There are still a handful of exhibition games left for Boston. By the time the regular season rolls around, it might be worth it for the Bruins to unleash Marchand on their opponents on a regular basis.