Bruins’ Marchand Could Learn From Mikita
Perhaps Harry Sinden’s most famous quote should be updated to, “Death, taxes, the first penalty in Montreal and a Brad Marchand suspension,” in reference to life’s certainties.
Brad Marchand is a rat. A pest. The kind of guy whose jersey you rush out to buy if he plays for your favorite team, or douse with lighter fluid and a lit cigarette if he plays for literally anyone else.
In Boston, he has already achieved cult-like status with his exhilarating play, throwback chippiness and tireless work ethic. He has evolved from being merely an agitator with upside to an elite talent, arguably the best left wing in hockey and a viable Hart Trophy candidate.
Elsewhere around the league, he has worked his way to the top of the NHL’s Most Wanted List for his actions which all too frequently cross the line between agitating/effective and detrimental/dangerous.
For the sixth time in his career, Marchand has been suspended for crossing that line, this time for five games, after throwing a rather vicious and seemingly unprovoked elbow to the head of Marcus Johansson. Johansson reportedly suffered his second concussion of the year on the play and is sidelined indefinitely.
Beyond the obvious need to permanently discourage these unsolicited and deliberate head shots (and similarly reckless actions) from taking place for the sake of player safety, Marchand must aslo allow the knowledge of his worth to his team and teammates truly sink in.
If these impetuous and dangerous acts cannot be curtailed by appealing to Marchand’s more empathetic side (he did witness Marc Savard’s career-ending injury firsthand), perhaps reminding him of the fact that he’s a veteran leader, an All-Star and should behave like one for the sake of his team could do the trick.
Perhaps a history lesson involving one of the league’s all-time greats could help.
Stan Mikita’s Story & Transformation
At eight years old, Stan Mikita left his parents and Nazi Germany-occupied Czechoslovakia for a better life with his aunt and uncle in Ontario. As a “DP” (displaced person) who was thousands of miles from the only life he’d known, didn’t speak a word of English and was smaller than most of his new classmates and countrymen, Mikita’s legendary feistiness and malevolence were born.
He was tougher than a night in jail.
Bobby Hull (Bob Verdi, NHL.com) January 1, 2017
They were traits which helped him reach the apex of professional hockey, debuting with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1959. Like Brad Marchand, the diminutive (five-foot-nine) Mikita won the Stanley Cup in his second season in the league, bringing the same tenacity and ability to rile-up the opposition while also picking up points as his 100 penalty minutes and 53 points in 66 games would attest.
Over his next five seasons, he recorded 153 goals, 407 points and 524 penalty minutes in just 343 games, winning the Art Ross Trophy twice. In those two Art Ross campaigns he registered the two highest PIM totals of his career, with 146 and 154 minutes, respectively. This was a player whose excellence and ability seemed to go hand-in-hand with his truculence and renowned trash-talking.
Leading By Example
A funny thing happened to Mikita during the 1965-66 Season. During another Mikita penalty in a contest versus the New York Rangers, Stan’s young daughter (watching on television at home) asked her mother why daddy always sits by himself instead of with Uncle Bobby.
Word of his daughter’s query reached Mikita, and he was instantly transformed.
Eager to set a better example for his daughter and other children, his playing style changed overnight. The following season he became the first player in NHL history to capture the Hart, Art Ross and Lady Byng Trophies in the same season; the 97 points he scored that year would be his career high, and his 12 penalty minutes a career low. The year after that he replicated the feat, becoming the last player in league history to capture all three awards simultaneously.
He would finish his career with 500-plus goals and 1,400-plus points, cementing his place as one of the game’s all-time greatest.
Stan Mikita didn’t change the way that he played because he was worried about the safety and well-being of his opponents. He didn’t clean up his act because he suddenly realized he was a superstar and was more valuable to his team on the ice than in the sin-bin. His transformation took place because he didn’t want to set an example for his children that would suggest their father was anything but an honorable and respectable man.
Mikita’s play and production did not suffer or wane because of the adjustment. If anything, it kept him on the ice longer, thereby making him an even better player.
With a baby of his own, perhaps Brad Marchand could learn a thing or two from one of the game’s greats.
Maximizing Marchand’s Maturity
Marchand’s case is somewhat of a unique one in that elite players in this day and age are seldom known more for their antics than their play. And make no mistake about his “eliteness.” As of this writing, no one in the NHL is scoring at a higher rate (1.32 points-per-game) than Marchand. Not Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov….no one.
Prior to his suspension he was on pace for nearly 100 points despite having already missed eight games due to injury. This comes on the heels of his 85-point campaign last season and a 37-goal effort the year prior, all while being one of the most responsible and reliable defensive forwards in the NHL.
Somehow, someway, someone is going to have to get through to him. And unlike Mikita, Marchand doesn’t need to go full-swing to the complete opposite end of the spectrum and start winning the Lady Byng in order to atone. There is a way to play on the edge without crossing the line. There’s a way to play chippy hockey and be a real S.O.B. to play against without endangering a guy’s career. He can get inside an opponent’s head without damaging their brain.
Perhaps appealing to Marchand’s own natural, human instinct for self-preservation would help. There has been a spate of and noticeable uptick in instances of opponents running Brad this season, most notably the concussion he sustained in an early-November loss to Washington which shelved him for eight games.
The longer he continues tending to his carefully-curated reputation of being a player who deliberately aims to injure opponents the more likely he is to not only have a bullseye on his back, but to also continue finding himself in the “blind spot” of officials when he is the recipient and not the aggressor.
He’s one of the best players in the league on one of its best teams. This most recent suspension is more than another incident on his prodigious rap sheet. It has put his team which is already missing one of its best players in an even deeper hole at a time when things had been going about as smoothly as possible. It’s further evidence that past apologies have been halfhearted at best and merely lip service at worst.
There is a way to be a rat without carrying Bubonic plague.
A quick history lesson for Brad Marchand is in order, for the betterment of himself, his team and the sport itself.
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