Even when it comes to intra-squad games of “Call of Duty” on Xbox, Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid finds it out of his nature to drum up that killer instinct.
“He’s actually awful,” says Bruins teammate and frequent gaming partner Brad Marchand. “He can barely walk around in the game. But he’s getting better; he’s trying to improve.”
If he were to bear down in an effort to take his “Call of Duty” skills to new heights, McQuaid would probably enjoy the same amount of success he has in his hockey career. And he’d eventually find that ability to unleash his inner beast from the couch, just like he has on skates.
By using his 6-foot-5, 209-pound frame to make puck-carriers pay, block shots and, when necessary, unload a few haymakers on an agitating opponent, McQuaid at 24 years old has seemingly secured his grip on a spot among the Bruins’ seven defensemen in his fourth professional season.
His minutes aren’t many (he has averaged just 12:14 of ice time so far) and his contributions on the score sheet are rare (three assists in 23 games), yet he has endeared himself to the Bruins’ fan base and the front office with his brand of basic-but-brutal hockey. He hasn’t thrown many of the type of Johnny Boychuk bone-rattling open-ice hits that make the highlight reels, but opposing forwards still know they have to keep their head up when McQuaid’s on the ice. And McQuaid has managed to maintain an air of physical intimidation without getting caught out of position for an odd-man rush against.
“The thing with that is, you’ve got to pick your spot. You don’t want to run out of position because most times guys have their head up and they’re going to get around you and it’s going to be an odd-man rush,” he says. “So Johnny’s good at picking his spots with that, and if I get my opportunity I’ll look for it. But mostly I’m just trying to play sound positionally.”
McQuaid says he hasn’t regretted many missed opportunities to put the hammer down on an attacking foe, just as he hasn’t regretted the road he has taken to the NHL through the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League over the last several years. It has been a long process for McQuaid, who’s still not satisfied with his standing in the NHL but has made good on every boy’s childhood dream of one day skating in the NHL.
Sheep in Wolves clothing
The oldest of three children, McQuaid said there still wasn’t much rough stuff going on in his household growing up. Maybe that’s why when he joined the Sudbury Wolves, his mild-mannered ways not only made him a great guy to be around but held back his development on the ice. However, everyone tries to throw stones at Goliath, and sooner or later the towering McQuaid was going to have to stand up for himself.
“Adam was always blessed with some great size,” Bob Jones, who was an assistant with Sudbury then and is now the head coach for Windsor, told TheBruinsBlog.net. “And I think as a young defenseman playing junior, he didn’t utilize his size like he should. And I think just over the course of coaching him for a few years there, the biggest thing we worked on was making sure you use your physical presence. He was a very good skater, he was big, he could move the puck. The only thing that was really missing was maybe backing some people off with some [toughness]. … We’d say, it’d be good to get in eight or nine fights a year. Not that he’s a fighter. But you’ve still got to get your gloves off eight or nine times and you’ve got to be able to put people on notice that in front of our net there’s no free ice and make people pay for it.”
McQuaid didn’t quite meet Jones’ goal of eight or nine a year but added some scraps to his ledger over his four seasons in Sudbury.
“It wasn’t in his nature,” recalls Jones. “I tried to tell him, you can still be a real nice guy off the ice and be real pleasure to be around. But on the ice, you’ve got to be nasty. And I said if you want to make a living, especially a real good living in the National League, you’ve got to have that nasty side. Everyone that plays in the National League has a mean streak – no matter if you’re a goal-scorer or a defensive player. It took him a little time to understand that, but obviously he got it and he’s just continued to get it.”
McQuaid, who was selected in the second round (55th overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by Columbus after his second season of junior, both honed his nasty streak and continued to improve his all-around game with the Wolves. He posted impressive 9-22-31 totals in 65 games in his last season with Sudbury in 2006-07. Stuck behind Kris Russell and Marc Methot on the Blue Jackets’ organizational depth chart, however, McQuaid was dealt that May to Boston for a fifth-round draft pick.
Keeping them guessing
Even at his size and with his experience throwing fists in junior hockey, McQuaid – with his gosh-golly looks and Brady Bunch-like bush of dark hair on his head – was still able to catch some people by surprise when pushed over the edge by an opponent’s physical play.
“I looked over at the bench and said, ‘What the hell is Quaider doing fighting?’ I didn’t know,” remembers Marchand about the first time he saw McQuaid drop the gloves in a game for the Providence AHL farm club. “He’s literally the nicest guy I ever met. If I had met him off the ice before I saw him play, I never would’ve guess he’s as tough as he is.”
There was no way McQuaid was going to fight his way to the NHL. So he kept improving his game as well with the P-Bruins. He emerged as a shutdown defender on a couple solid Providence teams in 2007-08 and 2008-09.
“He would try to step out for hits, as opposed to letting it come to him a little bit. He got much better stick position, understanding to allow the game to come to him. He worked on that part of his game – foot speed, all that stuff,” explains Bruins assistant general manager Don Sweeney. “He became, the last year and a half in particular, they built the patient part of his game as far as moving the puck.”
The Bruins showed patience with his development, so in turn McQuaid rewarded them last season when they gave him a 19-game run in the NHL by limiting his mistakes and making hay with his hands three times to earn five-minute majors.
There’s always room for a guy that works as hard in practices as in a game, and is willing to do anything to win after the puck drops. So it was apparent McQuaid had a future with Boston when last season ended. Over the summer, he re-signed for two years.
Making the most of it
It’s unfortunate that right now McQuaid requires injuries to teammates to get in the lineup. But he has embraced the opportunity and allowed Boston to picture a future with him as a regular and maybe his emergence has opened the opportunity for the Bruins to trade from a position of strength.
There’s no hesitation on McQuaid’s part to transform into his on-ice alter ego when challenged, as evidenced by his five fights (including the beat down of Washington’s Matt Bradley that landed him a spot on HBO’s 24/7 show), and he has gained confidence joining the rush more and trying to create a little offense in his limited amount of game action. Off the ice, he’s still the same mild-mannered kid, who teammates say will do anything to help them out and, most of all, is quiet.
His ratio of affability off the ice to surliness on it might be the greatest of anyone in the entire league. Maybe he keeps the hair puffy to add to that Jekyll-and-Hyde mystique – he says he looks “weird” with short hair – or maybe he’s just a throwback in every sense of the word when it comes to a hockey player.
“[McQuaid’s] a little bit of an old-school guy that just goes about his business. And he does all the little things. He’ll block any type of shot. He’s quiet, but he’s still hard on himself. That’s something he has to temper a little bit too. He has to not allow himself to get down too much,” says Sweeney.
If McQuaid begins to take things too hard when things go a little haywire on the ice, he could use the same attitude he has when it comes to his video game playing. About his failures in “Call of Duty,” McQuaid accepts his shortcomings.
“I think it’s just not my nature to be a gamer,” he says. “I’m pretty bad at it. It’s fun when you get a group of friends or a group from the team on, but we’re busy, so sometimes guys will try to squeeze in five minutes here or there, but I have other things to do sometimes.”
McQuaid has made the required changes in his persona over the years to make him more versatile and valuable on the ice, but still a player everyone loves in the dressing room. Even if his artificially-created toughness doesn’t translate to the gaming arena, more importantly, it has made him an NHL player.