BEIJING — Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak did not become top-flight NHL snipers by slacking off.
As they were getting a moderate leg burn by hiking the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall Sunday, their bravado informed them it wasn’t enough of a workout. They should raise the stakes. They went rock-paper-scissors, loser carries the other on his back. Marchand lost.
Boston’s No. 1 right wing, his listed weight of 188 pounds now inaccurate after an offseason of competitive eating — as Marchand later claimed, anyway — hopped on and made the No. 1 left wing into a makeshift mule. They rickshawed down a 45-degree incline, then up a similar climb for about 100 meters in total. The heavily burdened Marchand, who chose to wear sandals for this adventure, charged up the granite steps without breaking a sweat.
“Only gonna make you better, March! No days off!” Pastrnak bellowed, hanging on his back. “TB12!”
Tom Brady might have appreciated the shoutout. The Bruins’ 41-year-old fitness fiend, Zdeno Chara, certainly would have approved. Back in Boston, the captain is likely to hear a few good stories once the rest of the team returns home from its chaotic, unforgettable 10-day trip to China. He’ll be satisfied they had a proper bonding experience.
. . .
After beating Calgary, 4-3, in a shootout in their preseason opener, the halfway point of the trip, Bruins had the chance to sleep in. Sunday’s trip to the Great Wall was optional on the schedule, but mandatory in practice, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
First, they had to escape Shenzhen.
A super typhoon, Mangkhut, slammed the Philippines on Saturday with gusts of up to 138 miles per hour unleashing deadly landslides that killed dozens. It clobbered Hong Kong, where the Bruins coaches had spent their impromptu offday Monday. It was heading for Shenzhen, 10 miles away. Hours after the Bruins and Flames jammed into the same airport shuttles and boarded the same commercial dreamliner, some 2.5 million people were evacuated from the province they had just visited.
“I thought it was unbelievable,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said, more impressed with Hong Kong’s coastal skyline, where skyscrapers seem to sprout right out of the water, than the comparatively bland Shenzhen. “It looks like we got out in the nick of time.”
Assistant coach Kevin Dean, who lives in North Andover, felt doubly lucky. His home was evacuated this week, following the series of gas fires and explosions in the region. His family and home were not harmed.
After flying three hours to Beijing, successfully navigating its frenzied airport and avoiding incident with the city’s seemingly lawless drivers, the Bruins arrived at their hotel after 2 a.m. local time. They were greeted by some unintended comic relief. The well-meaning bell staff at the Four Seasons was clad in Bruins jerseys for their arrival, clearly knockoffs from the discount bin. The backs read “THOMAS 30” and “SEGUIN 19.”
. . .
The team had the next day off. Hang out by the pool?
Yeah, no way.
Workers began laying the first bricks of the Mutianyu section 1,468 years ago. They were restored 449 years ago, leaving a remarkably intact platform from which to see the greens and blues of the mountains fading into the distance, as the wall snakes along toward them. Like most world landmarks, it is best captured with one’s own eyes.
“Better than I would have even imagined,” said Charlie McAvoy. “I don’t think the pictures do it justice.”
“Beautiful,” Pastrnak said. “It’s like the Mona Lisa.”
For anyone who hadn’t been there — most every Bruins player, other than Pastrnak and Tuukka Rask — the chance to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World as part of a hockey career was not taken lightly.
“It’s been pretty incredible to see a different culture,” said Marchand, whose offseason travels brought him to Italy, the Bahamas, Colorado, and Quebec to visit Patrice Bergeron. “To see things that are so out of the norm, that are such a big part of history, that very few people have the opportunity to do in their lifetime. To be over here with the group of guys that we have and do it the way we’ve been able to do it, it’s been pretty special.
“Even when things have gone wrong in our trip, if it hasn’t run smoothly, to be able to get away and do something like this and see spectacular history and things that have shaped the world, it’s very special to be a part of.”
Cassidy, who played four years in Italy and Germany, used to hop trains headed to Paris. He likes to get around. “I could never imagine being here,” he said. “Getting back to the business side of it, hopefully we don’t lose ground when we get back. That’s part of the deal, I guess. We’ll get our work in starting tomorrow.”
One more small thrill for the coach. Cassidy waited his turn in line, hopped on a single-rider toboggan with a combination handbrake-throttle (pull to stop, push to go faster), and a serpentine metal slide guided him down the mountain.
. . .
The Bruins brought several rookies and inexperienced players on this trip, hoping in part to assess their worthiness for jobs. Cassidy recognized that pressure, saying he felt for them, since they may be unsure of themselves around a coach and players they didn’t yet know well.
They have a few lead dogs to follow.
After the gondola ride to the summit, Pastrnak made a precarious climb to the top of a 60-foot watchtower, raised his hands in celebration, convinced second-year winger Jake DeBrusk to overcome his stated fear of heights and do the same. Pastrnak noticed McAvoy and Marchand posing for more photos on the next watchtower and took off. He skater-jumped and jogged down the stony path, then parkoured his way up the top.
“He was climbing like a monkey,” DeBrusk said. The Bruins staffers who watched their prized winger ($8 million annual salary, 35 goals last year) make the Great Wall his personal playground tried to remain calm. Pastrnak was.
“Always like this, since I was kid, you know?” he said. “I love heights. I love adrenaline. Any time I can risk anything, I risk everything every time.”
DeBrusk, Pastrnak said, was “totally terrified, like a little guy.”
“If you’re gonna die, you’re gonna die,” Marchand cracked, egging him on.
“YOLO,” said Pastrnak, using the acronym for “you only live once. “Absolute YOLO.”
. . .
This banter happened inside a refreshment stand at the summit, shaded by bamboo curtains. As Marchand, Pastrnak, DeBrusk, and McAvoy chatted at a small table, surrounded by their teammates doing the same, a persistent vendor forcefully hawked his wares in limited English and rapid-fire Mandarin, pushing T-shirts, trinkets, and cold Tsingtao beer to everyone who walked by, and again to those who lingered.
The Bruins were good customers. They left their empties and pocketed their memories.
“Before the trip, I was curious to see the dividends, in pressure times down the road, since we’d start out getting close from the get-go. I could definitely see it paying off,” McAvoy said. “I think it has a little bit.”