By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Brad Marchand has apologized before, only to go off the rails at a later date.
I believe this time is different.
Three days after the Bruins All-Star was held without a shot on net in the decisive Game 5 loss against Tampa Bay, Marchand took part in the annual ritual of meeting with the media in the Boston dressing room. It’s usually a dour affair unless the team is the one out of 31 to capture the Stanley Cup, and clichés are the special of the day.
But not Wednesday at Warrior Ice Arena; not with Marchand.
After answering several questions about what went down in the aftermath of him licking Ryan Callahan’s face in Game 4 of the second-round playoff series, Marchand was asked by a handsome reporter from a website you obviously enjoy reading whether his goal next season will be to avoid suspensions and play as many games as possible — so his 34- and 35-goal seasons could become 40- or 45-goal seasons and solidify his position as a superstar in the NHL.
To the surprise of the small gaggle of reporters that remained around Marchand while Tuukka Rask began his chat a few feet away, Marchand opened his heart and let contrition flow out. Here’s his response with some comments cut out for brevity’s sake:
“After having a couple of days kind of looking back on the year and seeing what’s happened the last few days I guess, with all the media and everything, I think the biggest thing for me now is to really take a pretty hard look in the mirror and realize the actions, some of the things that I’m doing, have much bigger consequences … I’ve always been a pretty easy going guy and there’s not a whole lot that fazes me at all. So I think it’s kind of gotten to the point where, especially the last thing I ever want to do is kind of bring the embarrassment on my teammates and the organization that it did. I have to be a lot better. I know I’ve said that in the past but I think that that’s got to be the thing that I really work on the most.
“I think I’ve gotten my game into a pretty decent spot but I got some character things and things that I’ve done that clearly need some fixing. So I think that’s going to be the biggest thing that I take away from what’s happened. … At the time I didn’t think that it was a big deal at all; I couldn’t believe where it was going that there was even people talking about it, but again that’s a situation where you’ve got to actually look at it and be better. So that’s the biggest thing I’m going to take away. It’s time to take a good, hard look in the mirror here and fix some issues.”
Marchand could’ve easily dodged the question and given some form of “I’m a player who sometimes crosses the line.” He could’ve blamed the media for blowing the incident out of proportion, a popular tactic for athletes, actors and politicians since the dawn of time.
But he didn’t take the easy way out and instead admitted he was going to do some soul-searching this offseason. As he mentioned, he’s apologized for extracurricular acts in the past, including all six times he’s been suspended by the NHL. When he’s made statements in the past, though, you could always tell that a small part of Marchand didn’t understand what he was being punished for, even when his actions cost New Jersey’s Marcus Johansson a large chunk of his season because of a concussion. There was always acceptance by Marchand that suspensions and other punishments were just par for the course as long as he was playing his game.
This time he didn’t use his playing style as an excuse. He talked only about what his actions meant for the reputation of his team and the Bruins organization, and took full responsibility for what he did. This meant not only the embarrassment of having a player lick another player’s face and getting unwanted attention across North America, it also had to do with the shaky ground the Bruins have found themselves on with the officials, not just in the playoffs but during the stretch run of the regular season. It was obvious some of the calls and non-calls that didn’t go the Bruins’ way were caused by them losing the benefit of the doubt because of Marchand’s presence in a black and gold sweater.
I’ve covered Brad Marchand ever since he reached the NHL during the 2009-10 season and even a little bit in Providence. This was the most serious and apologetic his face has looked and his voice has sounded in the past nine years. This wasn’t a partying hockey rat putting on a façade to take the heat off; this was a 29-year-old multimillionaire franchise player finally making an effort to grow up.
If his look and his voice weren’t convincing, there was this answer when he was asked by a Hall of Fame writer whether he could be “a nice guy” and still score 35 goals.
“You know what … even if I drop to 25 but I cut the [stuff] out, it’s worth it,” he said.
Well the Bruins hope that a drop in production isn’t part of Marchand’s maturation. And with the skills he’s shown the past several seasons, there’s no reason to believe that’s in the offing.
At the same time, the Bruins have to be breathing a sigh of relief that he’s finally seeing the light. And as someone with no skin in the game, no financial or emotional reason to be in Marchand’s corner, I believe that this time he will stay on the straight and narrow. That doesn’t mean he’ll complete next season without a suspension because hockey’s the fastest game, hitting is encourage and sometimes mistakes are made. But Marchand’s days of embarrassing the Bruins are over.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.