‘His room’: Why Brad Marchand was the slam-dunk choice to be Bruins captain

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‘His room’: Why Brad Marchand was the slam-dunk choice to be Bruins captain

BRIGHTON, Mass. — Brad Marchand rose from fourth-line spare part to elite left wing by focusing on himself. Whether it was via post-practice wall work, gym sufferfests or offseason ice sessions with fellow Nova Scotians Sidney Crosby and Nathan McKinnon, Marchand shaped a blunt instrument into an all-purpose tool of precision. 

Marchand has 573 points since 2016-17. Only six other players in the league have more within that segment.

Being a captain, though, requires inward-looking players like Marchand to extend their sightlines to others. This has not always come naturally for Marchand. Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara, the Boston Bruins’ two previous captains, made it look easy.

“I really believe I’ve witnessed two of the best leaders of all time be in this organization and lead this team,” Marchand said Wednesday after being announced as the Bruins’ 27th captain. “To do that, it is a full-time job. Without counting the time and effort you need to put into your own game. Those guys, the effort and time they’ve put in behind the scenes every single day. They carry it home. All through the night. It’s on their minds every second of the day — how to improve the team, how to find different ways to bring the group together.”

This difference may be one reason Marchand felt a shade of nervousness when coach Jim Montgomery invited him to dinner at Sorellina in Boston recently with team president Cam Neely and general manager Don Sweeney. The 35-year-old expected the captaincy to be discussed. He was not certain it would be his.

“You never know. Maybe they were trying to let me down easy,” said Marchand with a smile. “So I was trying not to get my hopes up.”

Marchand did not have to worry. Neely told him he would be the next captain. Marchand felt everything: pride, relief, excitement, disbelief.

“I don’t think at any point I’ve ever, up until maybe last year, did I ever think there would be a possibility or be in a position to wear a ‘C,’” Marchand said. “Those are almost like the unobtainable things.”

From lick to legacy

Marchand has played in 947 career games. He has 973 penalty minutes. It’s a good bet he’ll reach 1,000 in the latter category first.

The left wing has been suspended eight times. His last sitdown was for six games after high-sticking Tristan Jarry in 2021-22.

Marchand’s most significant goof did not result in discipline. It was The Lick, of course.

Over time, through conversations with Neely, Sweeney and ex-coach Bruce Cassidy, Marchand came to understand how far he had crossed the line by swiping his tongue across Ryan Callahan’s face. He had soiled not only his reputation but that of the franchise. 

“I don’t really think that really kicked in and made me change at that point in time,” said Marchand. “But over the next couple of years, it definitely changed. It was part of the discussions that were about changing what my legacy was going to be. It was something Butchy talked to me a lot about. Then when Bergy became captain, I was alongside him every day. That’s really where I got to see what it takes to be at that next level.”

Time has not made Marchand’s prior mischief forgotten. Around the league, he still carries a reputation of being a foul-mouthed, hot-tempered knucklehead. Some of that is true.

He plays on the edge with his kettle near full boil. His DNA is full of that near-combustibility. It’s what makes him a superstar.

“We don’t want him to change his game because of it,” Neely said of the captaincy. “He’s such a great player for us. His competitiveness makes him a great player. So it was a lot of discussion about him not trying to be anybody he isn’t. Just control his emotions, as he’s done in the last year or two, and still be that competitive player.”

For all of his accomplishments, Marchand still feels the burden, if you can call it that, of his new position. He is the last link, save for Milan Lucic, to the 2011 Stanley Cup following the retirements of Bergeron and David Krejci. The Bruins are asking Marchand to be the steward of the captaincy until David Pastrnak or Charlie McAvoy, who will be his alternates, grow into the position. Marchand’s task is to take the wheel after a history-making team gagged in the first round.

None of this is easy.

“Don’t feel all that weight,” Sweeney told Marchand. “You’ve got to spread that around and utilize all the other people.”

That doesn’t mean Marchand is not ready.

‘His room’

Bergeron missed the first four games of Round 1 because of a herniated disc in his back. Krejci was unavailable for Games 3 and 4 because of an upper-body injury. 

Everybody knew who would lead the Bruins into battle.

“We learned it was kind of his room,” said Montgomery. “People looked to him. He assumed it.”

Marchand is not Bergeron. As sharp of a tongue as Marchand has, he is more comfortable letting his actions speak than his words. Teammates cannot help but find inspiration in a 5-foot-9 ex-agitator who willed himself into a champion, do-it-all forward and national-team standout for Canada.

“The one thing I’ve always done is I’ve worked really hard at trying to accomplish everything I set my goals on,” said Marchand. “If I get something in my mind, I’ll do everything I can to try to achieve it. That’s the same with this.”

In Marchand’s mind, every captain in the NHL is among the best to play the sport. So when he pulled on his updated No. 63 uniform, the one with the “C” on the left front, Marchand felt 10 feet tall. 

The “C” can have the power to give a player the strength of two men. Marchand cannot wait to flex his muscles in his new jersey. He has a lot he wants to do in it.

(Photo: Peter Joneleit / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)