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Rookies form odd couple in Providence


by Adam Kaufman || AHL On The Beat Archive


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Brad Marchand leads Providence rookies in scoring with 16 points in 34 games.

One was born May 11, 1988 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The other, exactly two months later in Drumheller, Alberta.

Little did they know at the time, or for the next decade for that matter, that once their paths would cross, their individual courses seemed destined to be parallel.

Providence Bruins rookies Brad Marchand and Andrew Bodnarchuk grew up some 3,000 miles away from one another in Canada. Like many north of the border, they’d lace up their skates and take twirls around their local sheets of ice in hopes of one day living out a dream shared by many: to play hockey for a living.

This story of two best friends begins roughly 10 years ago when Bodnarchuk’s family made the move east to Hammonds Plains, N.S.

Andrew was the new kid on the block and yet quickly found himself bonded to others by the very thing that unites groups of strangers every September and October across the world.

Hockey.

At the young age of about 10, however, the local Marchand wasn’t exactly the welcoming committee spokesman.

“To be honest,” revealed Marchand, “I wasn’t too happy when he moved into the neighborhood. Another buddy of ours was the first to meet him and he informed me that he was a pretty good hockey player. I was a little jealous.”

Now a defenseman, Bodnarchuk was a forward at the time and also a player Marchand said he quickly viewed as competition. That is, until a turning point for Marchand some years later.

“I liked Andy a lot more when he moved to defense,” laughed Marchand.

As the two sit and talk years later about their humble beginnings, it is quickly clear that no animosity ever truly existed.

“I didn’t know he had that feeling about me,” Bodnarchuk said after hearing of Marchand’s view of the pair’s first encounters. “He always seemed like a great guy face-to-face but now I know the truth.”

Both chuckled.

“We’ve been best buddies, seriously, ever since I moved (to Nova Scotia),” continued Bodnarchuk. “My family only lived a few houses away so we’d always have street hockey games going or basketball games. Just fun stuff like that for me, Brad and a couple other buddies in our subdivision.”

Early in their teen years when hockey began getting more competitive, the two often played on the same team though rarely together with Bodnarchuk on defense and Marchand playing up front.

Still, they had the pleasure of sporting the same logos until juniors when the elder Marchand moved away in 2004 to begin playing for the Moncton Wildcats in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The move to New Brunswick wasn’t far for Marchand, hardly more than a couple of hours, but the pair was separated for the first time in years. Bodnarchuk followed his friend’s route to juniors the following year but remained closer to home with the Halifax Mooseheads.

During that 2005-06 season, Marchand more than doubled his 29-point production from the previous year and burst onto the scene as a goal-scorer with 29 tallies in 68 games. Further south, the defensive specialist Bodnarchuk enjoyed a fine rookie season with 23 points and a fearless 136 penalty minutes in 68 contests of his own.

It wasn’t until later in the summer, though, that the first of many dreams began to come true. On June 24, 2006, both Marchand and Bodnarchuk were drafted by the Boston Bruins.

Marchand, selected 71st overall in the third round, and Bodnarchuk, picked 128th in round five, continued along their separate paths for the following two seasons with Bodnarchuk continuing in Halifax and Marchand doing tours with both Moncton and the Val d’Or Foreurs.

Then, on Dec. 17, 2007, the young men were reunited again as Halifax, Val d’Or and the Quebec Remparts were involved in a three-team trade that resulted in Marchand being moved home to Halifax, where he knew his best friend would be waiting with open arms.

“It was huge to get back on Andy’s team last year,” recalled Marchand. “We had a lot of fun together and it was great finishing juniors back home and on his team. It was really great just being able to go through everything together.”

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Andrew Bodnarchuk made his pro debut with the P-Bruins during the 2007 Calder Cup Playoffs.

That brings this story to the present day where, after a summer of training, Marchand and Bodnarchuk are together again.

“It’s tough to adjust to the pro environment,” said Marchand, “and having a good buddy there with you going through the same thing, I think it makes it a lot easier.”

“It’s just having someone there to talk to,” continued Bodnarchuk, who spent time late in the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons in Providence. “I’m a rookie here, too, even though I got into a game in the playoffs a couple of years ago. A lot of this stuff is still new to me so we can relate to each other as far as being out on our own.”

To no surprise, the two are living together in Providence.

“It was a no-brainer,” said Marchand without hesitation. “We planned it out a long time ago and said if we ended up in the same spot we were going to be living together.”

But…

“You can really start to see different sides of each other when you live in the same house,” he expanded. “He keeps his room really clean and mine’s a pig pen. Little things like that. He’s always making sure everything’s tidied up around the kitchen. But, you know. It’s nice for me because he knows how to cook and I don’t.”

Bodnarchuk agreed with his roommate’s assessment of their living situation, also acknowledging the occasional need for space.

“We have times when he’ll be in his room and I’ll be in the living room or we’ll both be in the same room and one of us will just go out for a walk or go do something alone,” he laughed. “But we always kid when people ask us how long we’ve played together. We just say ‘way too long’ because there are times when we’re just tired of each other and need a break.”

The third man in the apartment to start the season was fifth-year defenseman Ryan Stokes, sharing the rent and chores until he secured his own place. He said that there’s no question the two are like peas in a pod but, more than anything, are just entertaining to sit and watch.

“We have fun together and they get along well but sometimes they’ll bicker with each other over doing chores and it’s kind of funny,” said Stokes. “I tell them they sound like a couple of old ladies or something but it’s fun. They get along great and they’re really in a position where they can help each other out, just being first-year pros and both new to adapting to the lifestyle.”

The bond Marchand and Bodnarchuk have formed, as much as they joke about it, is one they consider to be quite special and also one that does not go overlooked by teammates, many of whom often joke that the pair is attached at the hip.

“I’m sure everybody wishes that could happen to them,” said rookie forward Matt Marquardt, who also played with Marchand in Moncton. “Everybody you grow up with dreams of playing pro hockey. It’s how you meet most of your friends. Then you go back home in the summers or at Christmas time and all everyone talks about is hockey. It causes you to wish they were there with you like when you were kids and grew up playing together.

“You can really tell the bond they have,” Marquardt continued. “Growing up together, living in the same neighborhood, playing juniors together and then both getting drafted by Boston and now they’re roommates – those are all experiences that a hockey player will always remember and those guys have done it as best friends. They will always keep that close to their hearts.”

Their coach agrees.

“It’s a good building block for them as far as turning pro together, having that familiarity with each other and being able to lean on each other if need be,” said Providence head coach Rob Murray. “It gives them a comfort level that maybe the other guys don’t have. It puts them ahead of the curve.”

As far as Marchand and Bodnarchuk are concerned, though, they just want to get the most out of their first years at the pro ranks.

“Everyone here has one main goal in mind and that’s to make the next jump (to Boston),” said Marchand in a moment of seriousness. “I have to work on rounding out my game and make sure I’m consistently coming to the rink every night, playing my best, and hopefully by the end of the year I’ll be able to make the jump for a period of time.”

Bodnarchuk, though less specific, felt similarly.

“As the year goes on, I just want to get better and better each game and at practice and keep progressing up through the system and through the ranks,” he said. “At the end of the season, hopefully I’ll be a lot higher up than when I started.”

Marchand’s first pro point came with an assist in his very first game. Two games later, Bodnarchuk tallied his first point with a helper of his own. Fittingly enough, the second assist went to Marchand.

They were born two months apart, grew up in the same neighborhood, played together in juniors only to be drafted by the same team and now they live with each other in Providence. All that’s left is an eventual promotion to Boston, which will inevitably come on the same day.

An odd couple, indeed.