By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
It’s been a good week to be Brad Marchand.
On Monday, the Bruins budding superstar signed an eight-year extension with the club for $49 million, and Thursday night; the former pest turned sniper sent all of Canada to bed happy by scoring a shorthanded/game winning/series clinching goal, with just seconds left in the World Cup of Hockey finals.
The series win over the mongrel Team Europe basically assumed from the start across the Great White North, and for much of the game, Canada played as if they expected their oddball advisories to hand the contest to them. It wasn’t until they found themselves trailing 1-0 with three minutes to play, that they really turned on the jets.
And Marchand wasn’t the only player who calls Boston their hockey home that saved Canada’s bacon, Patrice Bergeron – the second half of perhaps the best center/winger tandem in the NHL – deflected a Brent Burns wrister from the point on the power play to tie the game at one as it seemed the seconds were slipping away.
While the international stage is nothing unfamiliar for the Bruins should be captain, the Little Ball of Great is a bit new to the party when it comes to representing his country. After having a career year last season that saw him pot 37 goals, Marchand was invited to play IIHF World Championship in Russia last spring, with the B’s missing the playoffs for the second straight season. It was in that tournament that he opened even more eyes, posting a plus 10 while helping Canada to the title.
And his winning goal last night was so Marchand. Hoping on to the ice with his team shorthanded and under a minute to play, he took two quick strides toward the offensive blue line where Jonathan Toews and Jay Bouwmeester had just entered, and drifted toward the slot with his stick on the ice. When Toews tossed him a short backhand pass, the man formerly known as the Little Ball of Hate, wristed a seed stick side past goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
Game, set, match. Marchand went from being one of the most despised players in every NHL city not named Boston, and became a Canadian folk hero with a simple flick of the wrist. My, how times have changed for the little pest from Halifax, Nova Scotia that everyone but those who bleed Black and Gold seemingly wanted a piece of in the past, for all the wrong reasons.
How rewarding this must feel for a kid that was so disrespected when he first arrived in the NHL, fans of his own team called him “Marshmont.” He was viewed as a bottom six forward at best, who crossed the line too often for even the most avid Bruins fan. He was nothing but a rat, and at times his actions validated that term.
However, playing beside perhaps the finest all-around center in hockey for a number of years has transformed the former troublemaker into one of the best, most versatile, left wings in hockey. At 28 years old, Marchand is just approaching his prime as a hockey player. He is redefining his game and becoming 10 times the player who once was content to simply agitate his opponent, instead of initiating scoring chances.
And not enough can be said about the chemistry that exists between Marchand and Bergeron. Their line, along with some guy named Sidney Crosby, was the engine that drove Team Canada to the World Cup of Hockey title. In fact, you can argue with strong conviction, that the only reason that Marchand wasn’t the MVP of the tournament and Crosby was, is because it is mandated by Canada’s Parliament that no one not named Sid the Kid can take home such awards in international play.
Marchand’s assent into stardom is only dulled by the fact that the Bruins long rebuild will likely make it difficult for him to shine on the big stage in anything but these types of tournaments, at least for a couple of years. Unfortunately for him – and Bergeron, as well – their rise to greatness together has been a polar opposite to the team’s decline overall.
Who knows, maybe the magic they work with each other will be enough to lift the Bruins back to relevance by sheer will alone, that is a question that is yet to answered. However, one thing is for sure, the Little Ball of Great isn’t anyone’s rat anymore.