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Hockey pluck

Bruins agitator Marchand has never been short on talent or feistiness

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / April 14, 2011

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Brad Marchand’s nicknames include Marshy, Squirrel, and Rat. And even an unprintable one from a Bruins teammate.

“Little [expletive],’’ said Milan Lucic, who played against Marchand during the 2006 Memorial Cup. “Same way. Hasn’t changed. Just a little [expletive] who was out there doing his thing.’’

Marchand’s closest friends once dubbed him the Tomahawk. That one stems from an incident that Andrew Bodnarchuk, Marchand’s best bud and neighbor in Hammonds Plains, Nova Scotia, remembers well. Marchand tangled with a chippy opponent, and later the player tugged at Marchand from behind. Marchand had had enough.

“Marshy did a full 180,’’ Bodnarchuk recalled. “Baseball swing right at the guy’s melon.’’

Marchand was suspended for three games. He was 14 years old.

“I was surprised I only got three games,’’ said Marchand. “I thought it would be a lot more. I was surprised the kid got back up. I got him good.’’

Tonight, the 22-year-old rookie will participate in his first NHL playoff game. Parents Kevin and Lynn will attend, having driven 11 hours from Hammonds Plains.

Marchand will play a featured role for coach Claude Julien. He will ride on the second line with Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi. He will kill penalties. He will skate on the No. 2 power-play unit.

Last season, Marchand recorded one assist in 20 NHL games. He was a healthy scratch for 13 others.

Marchand could have started 2010-11 in Providence. But the condition of Marc Savard and Marco Sturm gave him his opportunity. The bubble player became the 13th forward. He then advanced from fourth-line winger to top-six forward. In 77 games, Marchand had 21 goals and 20 assists. He won NESN’s Seventh Player Award for exceeding expectations.

“He’s a determined son of a [gun], that kid,’’ said Rob Murray, Marchand’s coach in Providence. “Call it cockiness. Call it whatever you want.

“If you’re an opponent, you hate him. But for me, him, and our organization, he just won’t be denied. He told Claude he was going to get 20. He did it.’’

Marchand’s lips will be moving as rapidly as his legs, which should irk the Canadiens and their followers as much as it endears him to his teammates and fans. Marchand will skate through anything and lay a lick on anybody in his way. But he’s just as hated for his mouth, which is more Ernest Hemingway — short, declarative, and to the point — than James Joyce stream-of-consciousness babble.

“He’s quick,’’ said a smiling Adam McQuaid. “He’s quick and he’s clever.’’

A draft steal In 2005-06, while playing for ex-NHL coach Ted Nolan in Moncton, the 17-year-old Marchand had 29 goals and 37 assists in 68 games. In 20 playoff games, he added five goals and 14 helpers. Moncton lost to Quebec in the Memorial Cup final, but if Marchand had been two years older, Nolan figured, the Wildcats would have won.

But Marchand’s size countered his skill and winning pedigree. He is listed as 5 feet 9 inches, at least a 2-inch exaggeration. Also, Marchand had some character questions. He chirped a ton. Scouts fretted he was too selfish with the puck.

“He was one of those guys like a stallion,’’ said Nolan, who benched Marchand several times. “He wanted to go all the time. Sometimes you have to think it through. Shorten your shifts and pay attention to small details.

“He was a good skater. He was built well. He had a center of gravity where he was extremely tough to knock off the puck. He was tenacious on the forecheck. He just needed to fine-tune things.’’

The Bruins projected Marchand as a third-round pick. Trouble was, they didn’t have a third-round pick.

Don Matheson, who died in December 2008, was the Bruins’ Canadian Maritimes amateur scout. He was also Moncton’s director of recruiting. During weekly conference calls, Matheson reminded Scott Bradley, then the Bruins director of amateur scouting, that Marchand was a can’t-miss player. Early in 2006, Bradley traveled to Halifax to interview Marchand.

“When Donnie and I met him, I could see he had something,’’ said Bradley, who is now director of player personnel. “It was in the way he conducted himself in the interview. His on-ice play. All that stuff.

“He never quit. I’d watch him in the playoffs. He never quit. He’d go down swinging. That’s a quality you can’t teach.’’

At the draft, under the watch of Bradley and interim general manager Jeff Gorton (Peter Chiarelli had been hired but was still under Ottawa’s control), the Bruins executed a home run trade. On June 24, 2006, they swapped their fourth- and fifth-round picks to the Islanders for the 71st overall selection, which they used to nab Marchand. The same day, the Bruins acquired Tuukka Rask from Toronto for Andrew Raycroft.

The last time such acts of thievery occurred, John Dillinger was sticking up banks in the Midwest.

Skill and spunk On Oct. 18, 2009, while playing for Providence, Marchand said something flammable to Portland bruiser Cody McCormick. During a line change, McCormick vaulted over the boards, jumped Marchand, and cross-checked him to touch off a brawl. Vladimir Sobotka joined the fray. Lightweight Mikko Lehtonen dropped the gloves.

“We were actually surprised it took that long for somebody to do that,’’ Bodnarchuk said. “We always joked around. ‘Somebody’s going to get you, bud. You better tone it down.’

“But that’s his game. He can tell when people are on the brink of snapping. Then he’d pour it on some more when he saw that.’’

In Providence, Marchand earned the Squirrel nickname. After he scored, teammates would joke that even a blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut. But his actions remind most of another furry, long-tailed animal. Marchand has been known to do research on opponents for valuable material regarding girlfriends and other sensitive subjects.

“Part of being that rat guy, you’ve got to have something to your résumé,’’ Murray said. “Guys will say, ‘Shut up, Marsh. You haven’t even [expletive] scored this year.’

“That’s what you’re going to get from the other team’s bench. But all of a sudden, he’s got 21 goals. He can run his mouth off a little bit. He’s got a leg to stand on.’’

Marchand always had skill and spunk he would dole out in proper portions. In 2004-05, during Marchand’s Quebec Major Junior rookie season, Moncton played Rimouski, which had a kid named Sidney Crosby. Before the game, Kevin Marchand, Brad’s former bantam and peewee coach, had a reminder.

“Don’t believe at all that he’s better than you are,’’ father told son. “You’re better than him. Don’t give your opponent the respect that he’s better than you, that he’s going to beat you. Believe in yourself. You’re better.’’

During the game, the two clashed behind the net. Marchand grabbed Crosby by the neck. Crosby shoved Marchand. Marchand popped Crosby in the mouth. In that game, Marchand scored his first career goal and was named Second Star.

Marchand’s bite comes from his bloodlines. As a junior player, Kevin, who is shorter than his son, embraced the rough stuff. One year, Kevin Marchand said, he fought 40 times and recorded 358 penalty minutes in 40 games.

“I think I just had a bad temper; that’s where it started,’’ said Brad, the oldest of four siblings. “It was almost a mentality of our team.

“[Bodnarchuk] was really dirty back in the day. I think we all just fed off each other. It was the way we played. Teams hated to play against us. It just stuck with me. I had a lot of fun doing it. I seem to be effective at doing it.’’

Walking the line Murray can’t remember when this took place, but he will never forget what he saw. In a game against Portland, after yapping with Nathan Gerbe and Tim Kennedy, among others, Marchand scored a goal.

“All his teammates are going to celebrate with him. He just bee-lines it from them, stops right in front of their bench, and goes like this,’’ said Murray, cupping his hand around his ear. “I’m just like, ‘Oh [expletive].’ I look at my bench, everybody’s hanging their heads like they don’t want to be associated with this guy.’’

With his mouth, stick, elbows, and overall agitating, Marchand has always pushed the envelope. Last Sept. 23, in a preseason game, Marchand skated past Florida goalie Tyler Plante and tripped him up, an offense that drew the ire of defenseman Erik Gudbranson. On March 15, Marchand elbowed Columbus winger R.J. Umberger in the head from behind, which earned him a two-game suspension. On March 31, Marchand swung an imaginary golf club before the soon-to-be-duffing Leafs. He got an earful from Julien after that tee shot.

“It does concern me,’’ father Kevin acknowledged. “I’d rather have him achieve his success in certain ways without making enemies on the other team. You’d like to gain the respect of all your opponents, coaches, and referees.

“It does make me uncomfortable at times. I believe in respecting your opponents, referees, coaching staff, and your own teammates. But there’s a fine line. It’s a fine line to being successful and being gentlemanly. I guess I support his tactics because they are his tactics to achieving this level of success.’’

Brad Marchand knows no other way. When he doesn’t play on the edge, he loses the aggressiveness he shows when barreling through defensemen and being first on pucks.

“I’m into the game more when I’m playing that role,’’ Marchand said. “When I’m not, I’m not as excited. I’m not as involved.’’

Marchand’s mind and mouth know few boundaries. After a recent practice at Ristuccia Arena, Shawn Thornton emerged from the showers wearing a white dress shirt.

“Hey,’’ said Marchand, walking past his teammate. “You’re wearing your wife’s shirt.’’

Thornton approached Marchand.

“You want to get into this now?’’ Thornton asked with a smile.

Marchand didn’t answer. He kept on walking.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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