By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It was 1:57 into the second period last March 31, and the Bruins had just taken a 3-1 lead on the Florida Panthers.
The Panthers were desperate for two points and could see their opportunity to take anything out of their game at TD Garden slipping away. Micheal Haley, a 32-year-old meathead who would go on to lead the NHL in penalty minutes with 212 last season, was looking for a way to jumpstart his team. Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid obliged, even though the risk of injury probably wasn’t worth it and there was a chance the bout could turn the game’s momentum in the Panthers’ favor.
McQuaid, who landed an early uppercut and then hit Haley a couple more times before hauling down the Panthers forward, is just that type of player.
“I’ve said it’s kind of a fine line where it can be a response to the other team as well, so it was kind of … you kind of think about it for a second,” McQuaid told me after the Bruins won that game 5-1. “The way it kind of happened, at the same time, if it’s a scene where everyone sees the guy’s challenging someone and he doesn’t accept the challenge, then that can be a motivator in some ways too. Sometimes you answer the bell when that’s the case and you just hope the momentum doesn’t swing.”
McQuaid also confided in me similar sentiments to those of Ottawa defenseman Mark Borowiecki, who in an effort to protect his health, admitted in published reports that he was looking to cut back on his fight card to only bouts that are necessary to defend a teammate. McQuaid said he was trying to only fight when circumstances of the game called for it.
After a trade swung by general manager Don Sweeney early Tuesday, McQuaid will be now defending teammates and providing quiet leadership for the New York Rangers. The Bruins re-acquired defenseman Steven Kampfer, a fourth-round draft pick and a conditional seventh-round pick in the deal. The logjam on defense that included eight NHL blueliners has now been reduced to seven.
Sweeney acknowledged it was a “difficult day” after trading McQuaid. The 31-year-old didn’t shy away from any task in his nine seasons for Boston. His physical presence made up for his deficiencies in the skills department at crucial times. He sacrificed broken body parts to block shots and he betrayed his innocent Peter Brady-like looks by angrily beating down many would-be agitators.
McQuaid joined the Bruins as a large AHL brawler and transformed into a bottom-pair defenseman by improving his skill and agility with relentless offseason work.
“Yeah, it’s a tough day,” forward Brad Marchand said. “I’m very disappointed losing Quaider. He’s been an incredible teammate for a long time. When you look around the room, you want guys like him. He’s just an incredible guy off the ice, in the room, a great friend on the ice, an incredible teammate. He’ll do anything for the team, anything for each individual player. Its sucks, but unfortunately this is the business.”
For those of us less enamored with the violent side of the sport, McQuaid will be known for a couple subtle offensive performances. McQuaid had 13 goals and 53 assists in 462 regular-season games for Boston, but he had a hand in two of the biggest goals in Bruins history.
His pinch to keep the puck alive in the offensive zone didn’t earn him an assist but helped set up Nathan Horton’s goal in double overtime of Game 5 of the first round series against Montreal in 2011. Four nights later, McQuaid again pinched, and this time he got the secondary assist on Horton’s series-clinching goal in overtime.
Like most NHL tough guys, McQuaid was a teddy bear off the ice, giving his time to fans, charitable causes and the media. He was bashful when asked to talk about the day he rowed in a boat race with Kate Middleton in his vessel. And sometimes he’d even turn the tables on the media, once picking my brain about what life is like after having kids.
Even if he hit a ceiling in his development, McQuaid’s progress as a player was a model for Boston’s current young crop of prospects. And the Bruins have to hope they will all turn out to be the same type of citizen as McQuaid.
The Bruins also have to hope that when they face the Rangers, they don’t cross a line with one of McQuaid’s teammates, which would force him to take action with his temper and his fists.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.