by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.
Kevin Marchand passed on some of his hockey genes to his son, Brad, but he didn’t stop there.
Kevin also wanted to make sure that his son had common sense DNA on the ice, an element that dad sometimes lacked as a youth.
Like Brad, Kevin was an undersized player in juniors, around 5-foot-9, who had a bit of a temper on the ice. One day, Kevin got carried away in his agitating role and got into a fight. No big deal, except that Kevin hurt his hand, lost significant playing time and watched a teammate step into his role.
When Brad played as a youngster in Halifax, Kevin told him that there’s nothing wrong with pestering opponents, and that he should always stand up for his teammates. But emotion works best when it’s applied intelligently, and punching opponents doesn’t always meet that standard.
“He always pushed me to be a very gritty player. But he always tried to keep me away from fighting,” Brad said. “He wanted me to work on a more skilled part of the game.”
Like most elite players, Brad listened to all sound advice and then massaged his game to balance on a fine edge. Now, as a rookie forward for the Providence Bruins, he’s become an irritant who knows how to back off long enough to help his team create some offense.
Marchand, named the AHL’s rookie of the month for January, has jolted the Atlantic Division-leading Bruins with 11 goals and 23 assists while keeping his opponents uneasy with his overflow aggressiveness and running mouth.
“Being an agitator gives me an opportunity to draw penalties against the other team,” said the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Marchand. “That’s one part that brings emotion to my game. My dad was a big grinder, a tough guy. I inherited that from him.”
Bruins coach Rob Murray sees that up close every practice. Murray isn’t sure what it is, whether he needs a bigger or louder whistle. But perhaps the eye-catching thing about Marchand, the coach said, is that when he does the tweet-tweet thing in practice to stop or reset a drill, Marchand just keeps plowing away, battling for the puck.
“It’s tough being a small player. You don’t want to be known as a guy who goes into the corner and loses 50 percent of the battles,” said Marchand, a third-round pick by Boston in 2006.
“March is one of those guys who is a tireless worker. He’s very tenacious on the puck. For that reason, he’s a pest to play against,” Murray said. “There’s times you are doing a drill, in order for the drill to continue, you have to give up on a play. He’s there fighting for the puck in the corner, digging it out of people’s skates.”
Marchand dug in his heels for a similar battle for playing time. He started out as a third-liner. When Martin St. Pierre and Vladimir Sobotka were recalled to Boston in December and January, Marchand yanked his way up to top-two line and power-play minutes.
“I didn’t think this league would be as hard as it is,” Marchand said. “I thought there’d be more time, more space. There is always a body in the shooting lane.”
Murray would be happier if Marchand forced that issue a little more, though. Marchand, the coach said, just loves to dangle with the biscuit, looking for the perfect pass. As strong-willed as Marchand can be when it comes to stirring things up, Murray said he has to be just as forceful snapping the puck on net.
“I’ve been on him to shoot the puck more. He turns away from opportunities to take the puck to the net,” Murray said. “Obviously, he has a good skill level. He doesn’t take advantage of the fact he has a very good shot, at times.”
Marchand has heard Murray’s voice on the matter loud and clear.
“We’ve talked about that quite a bit. He’s probably sick of telling me,” Marchand said. “There’s been countless opportunities where I’ve passed up great scoring opportunities to make pretty plays.”
Maybe if Marchand were as accurate a shooter as he is a marksman, he’d be a lot more eager to pull the trigger. Marchand is an avid hunter, even during the hockey season. He occasionally bow hunts in the Providence area, and recently bagged a whitetail deer. He’s wowed his roommate, defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk, with his target shooting skill.
“I’ve shot bows with him before. He’s pretty accurate with it,” Bodnarchuk said. “He’s got quite a snap shot. Maybe the two (hunting and shooting pucks) are transferable.”
There’s a 300-pound black bear that used to roam the New Brunswick area that would agree, if it only had the chance. Marchand picked him off last summer, and sent him to a taxidermist for stuffing.
Marchand isn’t wishing the season away, but the full-body trophy should be ready this spring. Marchand has just the place for him, right in the basement workout room of his home.
“I’m very excited to go back and see what it looks like,” Marchand said. “It’s a big bear.”
There are a growing number of opponents who would like to shoot and stuff Marchand for their trophy room. They should beware — while he keeps in mind Dad’s advice he’s still got a growl that surpasses his size.
“It’d be better if I was 6-2, 220,” he said, “but I’ll work with what I’ve got.”