SAN JOSE, Calif. — When Matt Beleskey is asked when his father stopped hating Brad Marchand, he chuckles. He knows what this is about.
“Probably the day I signed with the Bruins,” he said.
Lest you think that an exaggeration, Joe Beleskey does not mince words as he, too, laughs.
“There were no Brad Marchand posters put up in the Beleskey house for a long time,” Joe Beleskey said.
It is common for opposing players to dislike Marchand. It is probably less common for their parents to feel so strongly. But Beleskey’s had a reason, dating back almost a decade.
Beleskey and Marchand were competing for spots at the under-18 camp for Team Canada in August of 2006, a couple of months after Marchand had been drafted in the third round by the Bruins and Beleskey in the fourth round by the Ducks.
And, well, as Brad’s father Kevin Marchand tells it: “Beleskey was trying to take a run at Brad to hit him, and Brad was carrying the puck and Brad kind of went low on him and took his knee out. Beleskey was probably going to make the team and Brad ended up making the team.”
That’s fairly similar to the way Joe Beleskey recalls the incident: “Matt had him lined up to hit him and Brad saw him at the last minute, so he just kind of ducked down. It’s not a low bridge, but he just went down low on Matt, so it caught Matt’s knee dead-on. And I was actually there. I saw it.”
Beleskey tore the MCL in his right knee, the knee he now refers to as the good one. (He wears a brace on the left.) He would not return to the Belleville Bulls until around November. It also meant that he would not make the under-18 team, a team that is the first real entrée into playing for Team Canada. He would not make the World Juniors team the following year, either. Marchand did.
“At the time, it was pretty devastating because it’s your first major crack at playing for Canada, and Matt was having a good camp, and then you’re out,” Joe Beleskey said. “You go play in the World Juniors at Christmastime and the whole country is cheering for you because it’s that big of an event, and there’s Brad.
“And so, you’re cheering for a country and you’re thinking, ‘Oh, there’s that kid. There’s that kid that blew my son’s knee out.’ So there was a lot of . . . we’d cheer for Canada, boo for Brad Marchand.”
Said Marchand, “He was pretty highly touted back then. I don’t think that I would have been there [on the team] if that didn’t happen, so it was unfortunate for him, kind of worked out for me.”
Of course, Beleskey now says, “Day one, you’re on the same team, it doesn’t matter anymore. I think the first time Marchy saw my mom and dad, gave them both a hug and everything. So, just classic Marchy.
“I didn’t like him. I wouldn’t say hate. I hated him as a player, hated playing against him. He’s always getting under your skin. That’s what makes Marchy Marchy, and he does a good job at it.”
The incident came up again recently, as Kevin Marchand recalled on the trip the Bruins players’ fathers took to Carolina. The day before the trip, on their way to practice, his son turned to him.
“He said, ‘Dad, I don’t know if you realize, Beleskey’s the guy I had an incident with at under-18s,’ ” Kevin Marchand said. “It’s like, no way. I didn’t know that. I know the moment. It was a pivotal moment. So it was interesting — it was a pivotal negative moment for them.”
Joe Beleskey, on the other hand, knew exactly who it was.
The two fathers got a chance to catch up on the trip, to revisit that shared history, one dulled by the passing of time.
“He said, ‘We hated Brad for years,’ ” Kevin Marchand said. “And then when their son went to the Boston Bruins, it was like, ‘Our boy’s got to play with Brad now . . .’ ”
It came up quickly for the pair, in one of their first conversations, after Beleskey signed as a free agent with the Bruins last July 1. Marchand said he hadn’t expected it to be an issue between the two, and so far it hasn’t been. Not for the sons. Not for the fathers.
In fact, as Joe Beleskey said, again laughing, “The Beleskeys no longer have any ill feelings for Brad Marchand. We’ve buried the hatchet. He’s played so well this year that all I do now is praise him to all my buddies now and everything. I might even start my own Brad Marchand fan club.”
If he’s so inclined, he’s already completed the first step.
After Beleskey signed with the Bruins, his uncle appealed to the team for a jersey for a charity golf tournament run by Joe Beleskey’s company. They sent one over, to be placed among the other signed paraphernalia from pro sports teams and the like.
When the tournament came around, Joe Beleskey put in his $100 — the money goes to charity — and went to draw out his prize.
“It’s a Brad Marchand signed jersey,” he said. “I said, ‘Come on. Of all the jerseys that you had Boston send us, you got us a Brad Marchand jersey?’
“So I was joking to Matt, ‘That’s good. I’ll just get the numbers taken off, get them sewn on correctly, and it’ll say 39 instead of 63.’
“I never did, of course. And now I have a Brad Marchand signed jersey and I’m very proud of it.”