Imagine being a world junior gold medallist twice over, a seven-year NHL veteran, both a Stanley Cup and IIHF world champion and still feeling like you hadn’t quite arrived. Like you hadn’t earned the conviction to count yourself among the world’s elite.
That is how Brad Marchand felt when the 2016 World Cup of Hockey began.
Sure, he’d been slotted on Team Canada’s top line, next to Boston Bruins teammate Patrice Bergeron and Nova Scotia training mate Sidney Crosby. He was notorious. He’d been victorious.
But that doesn’t mean Marchand — a third-round pick — believed his name belonged in the same breath as those on a roster overstuffed with two-time Olympic gold medallists, Hart winners, Vezina winners, Norris winners and first-overall draft choices.
“Obviously I think winning a (Stanley) Cup will always be the top thing, but one of the things I’m most proud of is being part of the World Cup team with Canada. It kind of put me on a different level, a different calibre of player,” Marchand said recently, asked to reflect on his most meaningful achievement in the sport.
“Before that, I never really thought I could play with guys that were on that team. I never put myself in the same category as anybody on that team. Coming out of that, I felt a lot more confident about my abilities and my game and where I could play in the league, and it just kind of elevated from there.”
Marchand, then 28, didn’t just coast by on Sid’s wing in the tournament, squirrelling away secondary assists. The pest morphed into a force. Sports Illustrated remixed his dubious nickname, dubbing Marchand “The Little Ball of Great.”
“He plays with great speed and creates turnovers for those guys and with tenacity. The only time he ever gets in trouble is when he tries to do too much,” Canada’s coach, Mike Babcock, said.
“Let’s not kid ourselves. He’s still a pest.”
Indeed, Marchand also led the tournament with eight penalty minutes.
“He’s got to play on the edge, and he’s a guy that nobody wants to play against but you want to have on your team,” Crosby said at the time.
The Marchand-Crosby-Bergeron triumvirate clicked for 25 points in six games, the left-winger more than holding up his end of the bargain with a tournament-leading five goals and three helpers.
One day prior to the World Cup final against Team Europe, Marchand signed his name to a $49-million extension with the Bruins, the most lucrative contract of his life. Then he went out and sniped the World Cup winner.
“The whole thing has been a bit of a whirlwind,” Marchand said that September. “When you come into a tournament like this, you’re just trying to take everything in. It’s the biggest stage in the world right now, and to be a part of it is an incredible honour.
“I’ll cherish every second of this for the rest of my life.”
With the benefit of four years’ worth of hindsight, it’s incredible how that ’16 World Cup accelerated Marchand’s individual performance (although, playing on a line with Bergeron and David Pastrnak sure doesn’t hold him back).
Prior to that tourney, Marchand had never enjoyed a point-per-game season, never earned a single Hart Trophy vote, never made the NHL’s First or Second All-Star Team and never finished among the top 16 in Selke votes.
Since his World Cup clincher, Marchand has exploded for a minimum of 85 points in each of those four seasons, reaching 100 in 2018-19 and he was on pace for 102 in 2019-20.
He’s finished among the top 11 in Hart votes and 16 in Selke votes every season since. He’s been named to both an NHL First and Second All-Star Team. He’s averaged a minimum of 19:26 ice time in all four seasons, seen more defensive-zone starts than ever and is still driving possession.
Moreover, Marchy has averaged better than a point per game in the Bruins’ three playoff runs since 2016 and was integral in helping Boston come within one win of glory last June.
The narrative would be too tidy to say Marchand — playing arguably his best hockey at age 32 — vanquished his image as the sneaky irritant the night he hoisted the World Cup trophy.
Since that international championship Marchand has incurred three fines and two suspensions for a charcuterie board of nasty (tripping, diving, cross-checking, spearing a man in the privates, elbowing another to a serious concussion). And who could forget that time he licked a dude, Ryan Callahan, from chin to nostril?
Don’t get it twisted: Brad Marchand is still a pest.
But he’s also, without a doubt, an elite talent who would surely deserve a prominent role on Team Canada were they drafting national squads today.
“I was really proud to be part of that team,” Marchand says now. “Because it’s truly a huge honour and place for any Canadian team. I really set some big goals to make that team and so I was very, very proud about that.”