The news began as a trickle on Facebook, then people began to see it on Twitter. Soon it was a veritable storm of good news for fans, players and management of the Boston Bruins. The news revealed Boston Bruins winger Brad Marchand had signed a two-year, $5 million contract.
Boston fans love their "little ball of hate." After spending the summer in a delirious celebratory state, Marchand and his fans were hoping a new deal would be in place before the start of training camp. Unconfirmed reports had come out of Canada that the Bruins were shopping the winger as trade bait, which added to fans' stress levels. It was unfathomable for them to think that their heroes might be forced to defend their Stanley Cup championship without number 63. Now everyone can breathe easier.
Marchand was a catalyst in Boston's march to the Stanley Cup last spring. He used his speed to beat opposing defenders to loose pucks. His good on-ice vision allowed him to set up teammates for scoring chances. In fact, it earned him 20 assists on the season, and another eight in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Marchand's quick shot release allowed him to pass his preseason prediction of 20 goals by scoring 21. He added another 11 in the playoffs.
Marchand's biggest attribute became more and more apparent as the 2010-2011 season wore on. He earned the respect of his teammates and confidence of his coaches by playing with the proverbial "chip on his shoulder." Hence the moniker, Little Ball of Hate. His 5' 9", 185-pound stature may be small, but do not tell him that. If an NHL team thinks it will intimidate Marchand, it quickly learns that will not be the case. He plays quite well with the big boys, thank you. The winger plays a high octane game and if an opponent thinks Marchand can be pushed around, that player receives a rather rude awakening.
Not one to shy away from the heavy going, Marchand often initiates contact, and tells the player he just slammed into how much he enjoys it, then skates away. In fact, that is pretty much what he did in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals. He threw four punches into the face of Vancouver's Daniel Sedin after the whistle had been blown to stop play. Sedin did not respond in kind, and instead asked the referee if he was going to call a penalty. The referee made no such call. After the game, Marchand was asked why he did that, he simply answered, "...because I wanted to." It is this attitude that makes Marchand a fan favorite in one city (Boston) and a hated villain in 29 other cities (the rest of the National Hockey League.)
The 2010-2011 season was a dream come true for the 23-year-old forward from Halifax, Nova Scotia. After spending the previous season with Boston's American Hockey League affiliate, it was clear on the first day of training camp that he was out to make the big club. A friend who was with me that day, commented that Marchand was a star in the making. Marchand has proven her correct. He made the big club, then went on to go from a fourth line checker to second line scorer, ultimately being one of the leaders in the organization's Stanley Cup victory.
Marchand told a group of reporters at a conference call that he will concentrate on being a better defensive player this coming season. Last season, he finished with a plus-25 in the plus/minus statistical category which attempts to measure a player's overall efficiency. That plus-25 ranked Marchand 16th overall in the entire NHL. In the playoffs, he finished with a plus-12, good enough for third in the league. It looks like his attention to detail on the defensive side of the puck has already begun.
With a new contract in his pocket, the 2011-2012 season needs to be not more of the same, but more for Brad Marchand. More speed, more scoring, more play-making and more of a physical presence. There is little doubt that will not be the case.
How much of an impact does Brad Marchand have on the Boston Bruins? It can be summed up this way: without him, the Bruins would be defending champions this season. With him, they can be repeat champions.