A good day for Brad Marchand starts in the summer in Eastville, Nova Scotia, on a plot of wilderness he describes as the middle of nowhere in his home province. He is on a 100-acre hunting camp that has belonged to his family for 40 years. A PSE bow, a Christmas gift several years ago from his parents, hangs on his arm.
Marchand, most likely with father Kevin and brother Jeff, is hunting deer. The Marchand men begin their hunt by scouting their prey. It is not an easy process.
They hike for miles over up-and-down terrain. From far off, they spot their targets through binoculars. Up close, they search for signs of where the deer are traveling. They read thermals, the pockets of air created by temperature variances at different elevations. They identify where they are eating and drinking.
After gathering their information, they set up tree stands in optimal locations.
Then they wait. Usually for hours. Sometimes for days. A long wait does not always lead to results.
“You put so much time into getting that one shot,” Marchand said. “It is frustrating when something gets away, especially when it’s a nice one.
“That’s hunting. That’s part of the fun of it. If it was a given every time, it wouldn’t be as much fun.”
Then there are times when the animal comes through, Marchand’s arrow flies true, and the Bruins left wing bags his target. Marchand’s checklist includes deer, moose, buffalo, elk, and bison (the latter of which remains in his possession in burger form).
The hunting camp is one of the few plots of real estate that Marchand does not patrol with Bruins teammate Patrice Bergeron at his side. Since 2010, Marchand and Bergeron have chased on-ice quarry together. This partnership has yet to extend to the wild.
“Not yet,” Marchand said with a smile. “I’ve talked to him about it a few times. I don’t know if he’ll do it. But I’ll push it.”
Bergeron has a lake house retreat in Quebec. He enjoys swimming and fishing with his family. He has yet to take up arms in search of his dinner.
“I would go,” Bergeron said of joining his linemate on a hunt. “But I wouldn’t shoot any animals. I would just go there and hang out with him.”
The odd couple
Marchand is the boisterous, 28-year-old left-shot forward from Hammonds Plains, Nova Scotia. Bergeron is the introspective 31-year-old right-shot center from Quebec City.
Bergeron is beloved by his teammates and respected by opponents.
“Everyone treats him like royalty here,” said Bruins center Frank Vatrano.
Marchand has just as many NHLPA members who would not mind closing his mouth with their sticks.
“I know why a lot of people don’t like him because of what he does on the ice,” said Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald, Marchand’s junior teammate and a fellow Nova Scotian, with a laugh. “But off the ice, he’s a great guy.”
Marchand, according to Bergeron, is the life of the party. Bergeron is the more reserved of the two.
While Marchand plays cards at high volume on the team charter, Bergeron and traveling companion Tuukka Rask fly with ears covered by headphones and eyes fixed on a screen. Bergeron and Rask are on “Ballers.” They have gotten through “The Blacklist,” “Game of Thrones,” and “Vikings.”
Bergeron, wife Stephanie, and son Zach were once residents of downtown Boston, just a slap shot away from TD Garden, but have retreated to the suburbs. Marchand, wife Katrina, and stepson Sloane remain city dwellers. Away from the rink, Bergeron and Marchand are good friends and regular dining companions, if not necessarily members of each other’s inner circle.
Yet when Marchand and Bergeron roll over the boards, the left wing and center transform into a singular predatory presence. Since December of 2010, when Marchand first took his spot on Bergeron’s left side, the two have formed an unlikely but unquestionable partnership as the league’s best 200-foot pairing.
This season, Boston’s No. 1 line of Marchand, Bergeron, and David Pastrnak has owned the puck. Bergeron leads all NHLers with a 62.6 percent Corsi For rating during five-on-five play. Marchand is just behind at 62.2 percent.
Even while playing against top opponents, the longtime duo and the 20-year-old Pastrnak have transformed defensive situations into puck-possession opportunities.
During their five-plus seasons together, Bergeron and Marchand have played with, among others, Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, Tyler Seguin, Brett Connolly, and Mark Recchi on right wing. They have never been below 50 percent in Corsi For.
Bergeron and Marchand are the NHL’s top all-situations pair — better than Dallas’s Seguin and Jamie Benn, Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, and Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin — because they chase the puck as if it’s precious prey. While Bergeron does not have Marchand’s interest in tracking animals, they share an aptitude and enjoyment of the on-ice hunt.
“We both like to hound the puck,” Marchand said. “We’re both strong on it down low. Whenever I was in the corner going after the puck, he just seemed to be able to read and react really well off me. I would do the same off him.
“We both play that way, the same way. We like to be in the corners and support down low, taking pucks to the net and stuff like that.”
Nearly 400 games in concert have made them as familiar as husband and wife.
When Marchand enters a puck battle, Bergeron usually hangs back, knowing his linemate is tenacious and talented enough to come out on top. If Bergeron identifies a race as a coin flip, he will support Marchand to ensure they emerge with the puck.
Bergeron’s puck persistence gave the Bruins no choice but to grant him varsity status as an 18-year-old in 2003-04.
It took longer for Marchand to become a full-time NHLer. The Bruins returned him to junior in both of his first two camps. He was assigned to Providence to start his first two pro seasons.
But in the fall of 2006, when he participated in his first camp, the 18-year-old Marchand took on everybody. Bergeron, who was already on his second NHL contract, took notice.
“Some people might say, ‘He’s a rookie, he shouldn’t be doing that,’ ” Bergeron said. “But for me, it was, ‘Man, that’s awesome. That’s what you want. He’s really showing he wants to be with us and wants to leave an impression.’
“To me, it wasn’t even the skill set; it was his will to make an impression on every battle, every drill.”
Like everyone, Torey Krug had his impressions of his future teammates. In the spring of 2012, after leaving Michigan State following his junior season, Krug signed with the Bruins a year after they won the Stanley Cup. The native of Livonia, Mich., thought of Bergeron as Boston’s version of Red Wings great Nicklas Lidstrom — professional, dedicated, perfect. He was right.
Krug’s perception of Marchand was colored a different shade. He had heard the stories and seen the pictures of a shirtless Marchand with drink in hand and many more in his system.
Before his NHL debut on April 3, 2012, Krug learned there was more nuance to the man who would become one of his closest friends on the team. By Krug’s recollection, David Krejci knocked him out during the standard pregame game of two-touch soccer. Marchand did not dismiss the rookie. Instead, by applying what he acknowledges is limited skill in soccer, Marchand targeted Krejci next.
“Marshy went right after him after he got me out,” Krug recalled. “It was just one of those I-got-your-back moments. It was one of those things I was a little surprised by.
“I thought he would have jumped on the bandwagon and said, ‘Get out of here, rookie.’ But he was one of the guys who had my back.
“I guess that’s why we’ve been partners in soccer up until now. We try and attack other people.”
Matters of perception
Marchand has a history of being misunderstood.
Most of it is his own doing. There are not many opponents who haven’t felt the sting of his stick or his tongue. They do not comprehend that Marchand’s belligerent nature is his way of helping his team gain an edge.
“A lot of guys playing against him always ask me if he’s a good guy or not,” Bergeron said. “He really is. I’m sure a lot of guys can testify on that coming from other teams. You realize how important he is in the locker room. He’s vocal, he’s funny, and he lightens up the mood.”
Marchand no longer requires affirmation. He was one of the best players in this year’s World Cup of Hockey, with Bergeron and Sidney Crosby as his linemates. Marchand signed an eight-year, $49 million extension with the Bruins that runs through 2025. There is no debate that the former fourth-line agitator is now one of the best players in the league.
Yet Marchand still carries a reputation of rat, party animal, and risk-taker. In some ways, he is secure enough not to worry about other people’s opinions. In others, he wonders why he remains a caricature.
“It’s funny, the perception everyone has of me,” said Marchand. “It’s mostly because of when we won and the celebration that followed that. It’s never really been who I was or the way I lived.
“When you win something you dream your whole life of and the amount of work that goes into it, I was going to enjoy every second of it. And I did. I wouldn’t change it for anything.
“For the people who know me, my teammates, that’s not the way I’ve always been. I’ve always taken this game and this job seriously. I’ve always tried to improve and be better.”
Bergeron has taken the same approach, albeit in a more discreet manner. He entered the league as a smart, physical, and skilled player. But it wasn’t until Claude Julien’s arrival as coach in 2007-08 that Bergeron better understood how defensive responsibility led to offensive chances and greater chances of success.
Where Marchand approaches improvement amid regular outbursts, Bergeron keeps his emotions inside. This hasn’t always worked. When Bergeron boils over, he has not held back from chastising teammates who do not perform to his standards.
“When those guys that pay so much attention to detail speak up, you realize they’re dialed in and they know something’s not right,” Krug said. “When they speak up, your ears perk up for sure.
“Having those guys around, that spreads like wildfire. When he’s emotionally engaged, the team follows.”
Choosing his words
Bergeron likes to roam. His offseason explorations have included Hawaii, Greece, Italy, the Caribbean, France, and Peru. So far, his career highlight is Machu Picchu.
“Incredible,” Bergeron said. “Just seeing the ruins, the energy that gets out of that whole place. Just incredible.”
Marchand, on the other hand, likes his routine, especially returning to Eastville, and not just to hunt.
“I don’t find anything nicer than being in the woods,” Marchand said.
“It’s calming. Just being there, hearing all the natural sounds. It’s incredible. I always try and get away and take it all in.
“This game’s very stressful when things aren’t going right. It’s a long season. It’s nice to get away and forget about it all.”
The camp is a place of solitude, the odd place where Marchand’s mouth usually remains closed. Otherwise, he is a chatterbox — on the ice, in the room, and on the plane. His vocabulary is not limited to profanity.
“The odd time, he gives me a few sentences in French,” Bergeron said. “Let’s say I’m on the plane and I’m by the napkins or the forks. He’ll ask for them in French. He’s pretty good. He doesn’t have only the swear words.”