TAMPA — The first order of the day, upon arriving at Amalie Arena, was a walk down the red carpet. A special day. The stars had arrived. Brad Marchand, object of fan disaffection far and wide in the NHL, was fully prepared for whatever grief might come his way on the sunny, warm afternoon.
“I thought there would be some flying objects,” he said about his sashay down the red carpet, which turned more into a perp walk when he arrived. “Luckily I didn’t get hit by anything.”
And the day was underway, the NHL All-Star Game, with Marchand, the cantankerous left winger, No. 63 on his back, the only Bruins’ player in residence. When it was over, Marchand and his brothers on the Atlantic Division squad were 5-2 losers to the Pacific Division in the freewheeling, check-free, and drama-void 3-on-3 format.
Brock Boeser, the talented 20-year-old defenseman for the Vancouver Canucks, walked way with the MVP, chipping in with a goal and an assist in the championship game.
But it was Marchand, suspended last week for five games for a hit on New Jersey’s Marcus Johansson, who made himself the most watched and displeasing to the eye — be it just by his mere presence, or by his play on the ice.
Inside the building, it began with player introductions.
“From the Boston Bruins,” bellowed the PA announcer, “No. 63, Brad Marchand!”
“Booooooo!” the crowd erupted. “Booooooo . . . .”
Unfazed, having received much the same the night before during the skills competition, a beaming Marchand offered the crowd a wave of his hand befitting a royal and, for an added touch, blew them a series of kisses as he made his way around center ice.
“Yeah, that was from the get go,” said the feisty L’il Ball o’ Hate, who, fans often forget, led the Bruins in goals, assists, and points last season and is again their top point-getter (50) thus far in 2017-18. “Fans enjoyed giving it to me, and it was fun giving it back to them.”
It’s easy not to like Marchand, and fans aren’t shy about expressing their disdain for the diminutive winger with the prominent nose and pugnacious attitude. He showed up here Sunday with all but a “TheyBooMe” nameplate ironed to the back of his sweater.
Bad boy Brad. He didn’t merely embrace the role, he wrapped it up with a rear naked choke hold.
“That’s what this weekend’s about, having a good time,” said Marchand, busy scurrying around the room and collecting autographs on his game sweater, scribblings from the likes of Steve Stamkos, Auston Matthews, and Jack Eichel. “I was just trying to take it all in. I mean, very rarely do you come to these things, and I’m very happy to be here — so I just wanted to enjoy every second of it.”
A win might have made it more enjoyable for Marchand. The winning team (Boeser and friends) split the $1 million prize money — not a bad take for a squad with only 11 players. Marchand, including the current suspension, has lost some $870,000 in working wages over his controversial career. A winner’s share would have helped cover the grocery bill.
With 5:40 to go in the 3-on-3 tourney, and the Pacific Division out front, 4-2, Marchand broke in alone from the blue line. He closed to the top of the crease and tried to muscle a forehand mash through goalie Mike Smith. No dice. Smith held strong and about three minutes later, Anaheim’s Rickard Rakell delivered the 5-2 jawbreaker.
What happened on his attempt that might have closed it to 4-3?
“Yeah, a bump in the ice there, I don’t know what happened,” said a smiling Marchand, tongue nearly busting through his cheek. “Skates fell out from under me, yeah . . . something was going on there in front of the net,”
“It was the puck . . . the puck!’’ offered a supportive Eichel, playing along with the excuse-making charade.
“Yeah,” said Marchand, pausing for a second while he conjured further absurdity to add to the parade of excuses, “I bet on the other team, too, so . . . I’m cashing in.”
Of course, a reporter standing nearby interjected aloud, why not? Go with it.
“Yeah,” Marchand added with a slight smile, “exactly.”
Only one penalty was called throughout the tournament. No surprise, it was Marchand who went down, crumpling up in the right wing circle as he collided with ex-BC Eagle Johnny Gaudreau. Not content just to draw the one-minute minor, an animated Marchand (is there another version?) kept dabbing at his nose near the referee, trying get more time added to the penalty for drawing blood. Total ham. Again, playing villain. It was beginning to look like a WWE casting call.
“Ah, yeah, I mean, high stick, missed call . . . an important game and I was expecting a call,” said Marchand, more tongue, more cheek. “That was a penalty, he tripped me, and I was playing the high stick.”
Marchand won’t be back in real time action until a week from Wednesday when the Bruins take on the Rangers in Manhattan. Because of his impulsive hit to Johannsson, a running elbow that concussed the slick Devils forward, Marchand will be hors de combat for games vs. Anaheim, St. Louis, Buffalo, and Detroit. He plans to be at the Bruins 2 p.m. practice on Monday in Brighton to help keep up his fitness.
He left here with his bad boy image not only intact, but enhanced, TV networks in the US and Canada chronicling his antics. He is Peck’s Bad Boy for pucks. If there were fans who didn’t know his shtick, they know it now. The booing is bound to increase in rinks across the Original 31.
“I think it’s been following me for the last 10 years, so . . . ,” said Marchand, asked if he were concerned about the booings to come. “It’s not going to be any different than it is anywhere. That’s how it is. There’s guys like that in the league and you can’t change how the fans think.”
He came here not to change minds, but to crystalize their thinking. Mission accomplished. Bad boy Brad had himself a day.