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They frolicked along the Great Wall, sipped on local beer, watched in delight as David Pastrnak rode piggyback-style on the shoulders of Brad Marchand during a break on their preseason swing through China. A lost bet to his Czech linemate transformed Marchand into a 5-foot-9-inch rickshaw-for-hire.
“No days off!” bellowed a beaming Pastrnak, promising that the unorthodox workout would make “Marchy” a better man. Perhaps he was right. Marchand went on to post a career-high 100 points.
Team chemistry? Yeah, the Bruins have that.https://t.co/BbhzzO3h3C pic.twitter.com/rwdl3lKq7g— Boston Globe Sports (@BGlobeSports) April 8, 2019
On New Year’s Day, the whole lot of them dressed up like improper British lads, faux gangsters in scally caps and tailored woolen suits, circa 1920s Birmingham, England. The hallowed grounds of Notre Dame football served as stage to the disparate worlds of the BBC drama “Peaky Blinders” and the NHL’s Winter Classic.
Even coach Bruce Cassidy, increasingly appreciating his team’s emerging personality, sported a wide-brimmed “Peaky’s” hat behind the bench that cloudy Jan. 1 afternoon outdoors at South Bend, Ind.
“Normally not much of a fashionista,” said the coach, whose squad went on to finish second overall in the Eastern Conference, “but I figured, hey, what the hell?”
Nearly a half-century removed from the raucous, swashbuckling days of Bobby Orr and the Big, Bad Bruins, once the city’s most mischievous and lovable group, the 2018-19 version of the Black and Gold emerged this winter as the city’s fun bunch. They will open the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs on Thursday as serious title contenders — chasing their first Cup since 2011 — as well as a team that proved adept at mixing an intoxicating cocktail of hard work, good times, and a silken vermouth of results.
True, they may not be your grandfather’s Big, Bad Bruins, but dear ol’ gramps wasn’t around in the days of Instagram and Twitter. He therefore couldn’t revel in the likes of Marchand and fellow small-fry Torey Krug staging a social media battle royale, clash of the little men, for all the world to enjoy.
For those just hopping aboard the rollicking Zamboni ride now, Krug and Marchand became experts at firing pot shots at one another, pictures included, across the bows of their social media platforms. How low could the two little guys go? Low enough to prove they might be short, but not when it comes to mutually self-deprecating humor.
It all began a couple of years ago, Krug explained the other day, when Marchand posted a picture of his infant son’s bathroom.
“Yeah, there were steps leading to the sink,” recalled a chuckling Krug, “and Marchy said those were mine.”
Krug fired back and the two have kept up the digital-age assault ever since, with Cassidy among the most eager to witness the next retort (currently in Krug’s court).
“Listen, I’m not even on [social media], so I am the last one to find out,” said the coach. “I have to watch NESN or the NHL Network to get it. I think it’s been hilarious. Good stuff.”
sorry for the delayed response... was watching honey I shrunk the kids.. you were so good in this scene pic.twitter.com/p4CuJzbsMD— Brad Marchand (@Bmarch63) March 6, 2019
Cassidy, now with two full seasons completed behind the Boston bench, may not deliberately set the tone for all this, but it is clearly a looser, far more emotive group than it was during Claude Julien’s 10 seasons as Bruins coach.
“I like to see it come out,” said Cassidy, by far the most engaging and media-savvy coach the Bruins have had behind their bench. “As long as it doesn’t cross the line.”
Julien’s teams had their characters, tough guy Shawn Thornton chief among them, and nothing makes a team more embraceable than winning the Cup. But there is no denying that the club’s personalities have emerged much more since the coaching change in February 2017.
“They’ve kept it light but funny. And good for them,” added Cassidy. “They are personalities and we are in an entertainment industry. So I think fans do like to see the other side, other than just robotic hockey players. Some have it naturally. Some are more guarded. I’ll never change a guy that’s more guarded, if he doesn’t want to be out there. But I don’t want to discourage a guy that has a little personality, too. Especially if they’ve been in this market a while, which Marchy and Krug both have. Then have at it.”
Krug, who will turn 28 on Friday, is finishing his sixth full season with the club. In his time in Boston, he said, he has witnessed a change in mood on the team, across the league, and in society at large, encouraging players to be less guarded about their lives and personalities. The social media tools, he said, have been key to the metamorphosis and reveal.
“For a long time,” said Krug, “as hockey players we were always the one sport that was just, ‘Hey, don’t show your personality, stick to your guns . . . this is all business.’ Away from the rink, you kept all that stuff private and didn’t show who you are. In a sense, we were almost robots.”
This is for taking shots at me while I was on the IR... more to come. Love you 👅 @Bmarch63 pic.twitter.com/yEN6XG7Y3e— Torey Krug (@ToreyKrug) March 28, 2019
It is a team, Cassidy has noted in recent weeks, in which teammates genuinely like one another, pull for one another’s success. Though that may sound simple, or even a given, it is not always the case.
“I love that about the guys,” he said. “They play for one another every night. It is not always perfect. But they are great that way. They are happy for each other. You don’t see that on every team, trust me. Some guys are not happy for others — they want to be the guy. Our guys are genuinely happy for each other’s success.”
According to Patrice Bergeron, who has been in residence longer than any current Bruin, the goodwill and bonding stems from a concerted effort by teammates to give each other positive feedback.
“We call it filling each other’s tanks,” he said. “When you see details and lines going well and doing good things, it’s about letting them know. And vice versa. There’s a lot of that chatter on the bench when guys are doing good things. And you gain confidence with that. You realize your teammates are seeing the details, are seeing the contribution you are [making] for the team, and I think that goes a long way. To me, that’s what it’s been about. Everyone kind of cares for one another and wants to make a difference for the team.”
Exhibit A in tank filling, a moment that also received substantial play on social media, came just a month ago (March 7) against Florida when Matt Grzelcyk hammered home his first goal since Nov. 8. The Charlestown-born defenseman cranked a long-distance one-timer that went bar-down, a blistering shot torn right from the Ray Bourque chronicles.
“Didn’t know he had it in him,” said an impressed Cassidy.
The social media moment came maybe a minute later with a smiling Grzelcyk caught by the NESN camera on the bench, where he was seated between fellow blue liners Brandon Carlo and John Moore. All of a sudden, a seated Carlo jumped from Grzelcyk’s right side and wrapped him in a bear hug. On the opposite side, Moore banged Grzelcyk’s left arm in added affirmation. They looked liked three kids who just won the state tourney and were ready to rent prom tuxes the next day.
Grzelcyk’s tank definitely read “full.”
“To see how excited they were for me was pretty cool,” Grzelcyk recalled the other day, just recently back from an extended stay on the injury list. “Obviously, they’re really good teammates and we are just a really close team in here, and that’s carried us a long way this year. Hopefully, it is going to carry us a long way in the playoffs.”
Carlo, 22, was especially excited in that moment because he had predicted that Grzelcyk was going to score.
“For me personally, seeing guys that have been wanting a goal for a while, I get really excited for those moments, because I’ve been there, obviously,” said Carlo, who has scored only eight goals in his three NHL seasons. “I told him he was going to go out there and score. I called it, and I was really excited when it happened. I love Grizzy as a friend off the ice as well.”
It hasn’t all been fun and laughs that have defined them. Late in the regular season, fourth-line center Noel Acciari put on a display of classic hockey tough-guy temerity after a puck rocketed into his mouth Feb. 26 vs. San Jose. Much of the following day was spent at the dentist, addressing a couple of missing teeth and mouthful of hurt.
On Feb. 28, Acciari was back in action against Tampa Bay, albeit sporting a full “bubble” mask to protect the injury. Final line: 1-1—2 with four shots on net, and he was named the game’s first star.
“I thought he was a Canadian there, for a bit,” kidded fellow forward Jake DeBrusk, who grew up in Alberta. “That’s what Canadian kids do. He’s a warrior.”
Not all teams come together in such harmony. Krug, for one, is well aware that good fits are not guaranteed.
“I won’t speak specifically to what teams, but I’ve been on teams where there is a sense of relief once it is over and you are looking forward to what’s going to happen the following year,” he said. “What we’ve had the last couple of years is something special. We’ve tried to really embrace that bond and hold on to it as long as we can, and hope that we can make something special out of it. The last few years it has been you don’t want this thing to end.”
Cassidy, now in his 22nd year of coaching, is well aware of the perils that come with roster building and nurturing. Quirky roster dynamics in his season and a half behind the Capitals’ bench played a part in his departure, and it was 13 years before he again took over an NHL bench.
“Bond of the team, how does that happen? It is a mystery,” noted Cassidy. “Honestly. I think any team, if they can get it all together and guys like each other, it’s one of the best feelings. But it doesn’t happen all the time.”
Meanwhile, the playoffs are here, and Krug stands ready to answer his pal Marchand, his partner in short ribbings. He knows he has to be on his game. In one of Marchand’s volleys, he filled a hotel ice bucket with water and notified Krug that his bath was ready.
“Liked that,” said Krug, in a Marchy-will-get-his kind of way, “that was really funny.”
How soon for the return volley?
“Not sure. I just shot one that I think’s pretty good,” said Krug. “We’ll see. I try to make sure it’s the appropriate time.”
Never know, could be time for Marchand to be forced again into piggyback duty. No telling where another ride might lead.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.