Hockey

Tim Wharnsby - Wednesday Sep. 25, 2013 12:21 ET

Brad Marchand feeling the love from Team Canada

Feisty winger known as "little ball of hate" proving his worth to Olympic management

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Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins was a strong presence during the NHL playoffs, and hopes to impress Team Canada management. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

At first, Brad Marchand didn’t know what to think when his mobile phone rang while he was out shopping in the Halifax area last summer. Was this a joke? A wrong number?

“I was in a store and I got a phone call from a weird number. I picked up,” Marchand recalled.

“Is this Brad?” the voice on the other end asked.

“Yeah, who’s this?” Marchand answered.“Steve Yzerman.”

“I didn’t say a lot. Then he filled me in,” the feisty Boston Bruins left winger said. “I was definitely a little shocked. I never thought I would be going to an Olympic camp.”

Marchand was the surprise invite to the Canadian men’s Olympic team orientation camp in August. He doesn’t normally mix with the game’s elite at all-star games or award shows. But he always plays with determination and a high degree of the skill, speed and playmaking. He’s particularly effective on special teams.

Team Canada’s management definitely had a case to include Marchand in the discussion. At 25, he already has a strong resume. 

He went to a Memorial Cup final with the Moncton Wildcats in 2006. He won two world junior championships with Canada in 2007 and 2008. 

He celebrated a Stanley Cup title with Boston in 2011 and advanced to another final last spring.“When you coach a player everyday you tend to focus on the weaknesses,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. 

“I like the fact that people saw his skill level. He was picked by other general managers [from the Hockey Canada management team]. 

“He scores some big goals, sets up some big goals, works well on the power play. You have seen this in big games, in overtime,” Julien said.

Despite being one of the smallest players on the ice, Marchand, who is from Hammonds Plains, N.S., punches above his weight. It’s also, however, one of his key flaws. 

He has a knack for crossing the line with undisciplined acts. He yips and yaps at opponents. He has an embellishment rep. He dives too much. He feigns phantom punches in scrums that he started in the first place. 

As Marchand has matured, those types of incidents have diminished and he must be aware that in a short tournament such as the Olympics an outburst or display of bad behaviour could be fatal to his team. Julien deserves credit for Marchand’s development. So does the late Donnie Matheson.

Matheson sadly passed away in December 2008 after 15 years as the Bruins Eastern Canada scout and longtime Wildcats executive. But he continues to be Marchand’s guardian angel.

Matheson coached Marchand’s father, Kevin, in junior. When Brad started to play, the scout watched the son closely. He pushed the Wildcats to draft him. That worked out. He pushed the Bruins to trade to fourth-round picks for the New York Islanders third-round choice (71st overall) in 2006 so they could take Marchand. That worked out, too.

Ironically, Marchand’s junior coach and Matheson’s old boss with the Wildcats, Ted Nolan, had just been hired to coach the Islanders. But Matheson beat him to the punch, pushing the Bruins to draft him.

“Donnie liked the way I played and I think it helped he knew my background,” Marchand said. “My Dad was a gritty player and I think Donnie knew that he passed it on to me. I know if it wasn’t for him I would not be where I am today.”And Marchand never forgets his friend. 

During his day with the Stanley Cup in late August 2011, Marchand invited Matheson’s widow, Jane, to the ceremony and brought her up on stage. A month later, the Bruins presented her with a Stanley Cup ring prior to Bruins exhibition game against the Montreal Canadiens in Halifax.

“He deserved to be part of it,” Marchand said. “He put a lot into the team. He did a phenomenal job as a scout, as a friend and as a mentor. We used to sit down before each season and he would give me a pep talk. I think about him often.”

Marchand has matured: Julien

Now if Marchand strays, he’s sure to get a stern look from his head coach.

“Guys go through learning curves all the time,” Marchand said. “I’ve been fortunate to have a coach like Claude who was willing to put up with me and has allowed me to mature and grow. He knows how to coach me and how to control me. He’s been pushing me for a long time now.

“Sometimes, it’s a look or a nod. Sometimes, he’ll yell at me. Then, I know it’s time to get back to hockey.”

Julien believes his player has turned the corner.

“Although, what he does on the ice sometimes can tarnish his reputation, he’s certainly very skilled and a good player,” Julien added.

“Brad has come a long way in terms of maturing as an individual. For people who don’t know Brad very well, he’s very coachable. You can bring him in and talk to him, and there is no second-guessing on his part. He hears you. He trusts you. That’s what has made him a good player and worthy of being considered for the Olympic team.”

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