TAMPA — Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin remembers the moment. Late last season, he lay on the ice at Boston's TD Garden after a stick speared him in the groin. He dropped as if shot. Dotchin turned and saw hockey's preeminent lone gunman, its dirty rotten scoundrel, pucks' bad boy: Brad Marchand.
"It was a stinger, for sure," Dotchin said. "It ran up and got inside my cup. That was my Marchand moment."
Marchand moments. Who doesn't have one? What fan not from Boston doesn't despise the Boston Bruins winger, the chippy, chirpy, eagle-beaked firestarter? What team doesn't want to knock the 5-foot-9 Marchand, a pest for the ages, all the way back to Halifax, Novia Scotia, where he was born, or hatched, or left on his parents' doorstep by Martians 29 years ago?
Marchand moments. Like the 19 games of suspensions — including the Dotchin spear — he has earned in his career as an agitator and instigator. Like the tens of thousands of dollars in fines that have gone with them. Like the time when Barack Obama, at the time the president of the United States, smiled and called Marchand "the little ball of hate" during a White House ceremony honoring Boston's 2011 Stanley Cup champions.
Marchand moments. Like the year after Boston beat Tampa Bay in the 2011 Eastern Conference Final, and Marchand scored a goal against the Lightning, then skated past the Tampa Bay bench tapping his glove as if there was a Cup ring under it. What's not to hate?
Now comes Lightning vs. Bruins, playoff version, and with it our nominee for the all-time villain in Tampa Bay sports history, yes, even Tampa Bay-Boston sports history. Move over, David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez. At January's NHL All-Star Game in Tampa, the boos cascaded down at Amalie Arena. Marchand played along. He grinned and waved to fans. Night after night in NHL arenas, he's the head rat. Fine by him.
"You don't hear anything on the ice," Marchand said on the eve of the playoff series. "Obviously, when the whole crowd is booing, it's a little different. But they're always irrelevant, really. They don't play any meaning in the game, how we play, what we do. … I'm not really concerned about them."
Or most anyone else. That's Marchand — under you skin, in your face, right down your throat even, like one of those facehuggers from Alien. Only the facehuggers were cuddlier.
Marchand moments. Like the playoff series between the Bruins and Montreal a few years ago, Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban plowed Bruins center Patrice Bergeron into the boards. Bergeron got up and asked Subban why he did that.
"I didn't mean to," Subban said. "I thought you were Marchy."
I thought you were Marchy.
"He's one of those agitators," Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. "He plays on the line, over the line. He's all over. He wants to get guys rattled, off their game a little bit. He's good at it, too."
"He plays on that edge," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "He's done some things that maybe he regrets, maybe he doesn't. Some plays that have resulted in suspensions over the years. At the same time, he's one heck of a competitor. He's a very good player. You know, he might try some things like he did in the Toronto series but for us, we're experienced enough group to let him do his thing and not respond."
We'll see about that.
Back to the Toronto series, which Boston won. Another Marchand moment: He hooked up with Maple Leafs forward Leo Komarov and … licked him.
Earlier this season, Marchand kissed Komarov on the cheek during a battle. The NHL reportedly issued a directive for the Bruins to pass along to Marchand during the playoff series. Wonder who at the office got to write that one?
Please don't lick any more players.
"I'm not going to go over that stuff," Marchand said. "That's all in the past. I'm just going to worry about the future."
What all of this (nearly) obscures is that Marchand is as good at playing as he is at annoying. Possessed of speed and skill, he had 34 goals and 85 points during the season on the NHL's most fearsome line, along with Bergeron and David Pastrnak. The Lightning needs to stop those three in this series, so there's no time for a sideshow, which Marchand would love, befitting a weapon of mass distraction.
Understand that Marchand is loved by Boston teammates and is apparently a good person when he not being Marchand. He is a husband and father. In other words, a human being just like us, carbon based and everything. Lightning coach Jon Cooper saw that when he coached Marchand at the All-Star Game.
"It was actually disappointing," Cooper said with a smile. "I was hoping he was going to be an idiot. I was hoping I wasn't going to like him. But he was unreal. It's amazing that a guy who is that kind and nice and outgoing and friendly … but when he jumps on the ice, he comes to play."
"I think one of the greatest comments you can give a player is, 'God, I hate that kid, but I wish he was on my team.' "
Marchand explained himself in a recent and riveting dispatch for The Players' Tribune:
"If I played the game any other way, you wouldn't know my name. You wouldn't care enough to hate me because I wouldn't be in the NHL"
Lightning assistant general manager Pat Verbeek has a take on Marchand. Verbeek, when not scoring 522 NHL goals, was as annoying as Marchand, hold the suspensions. The undersized Verbeek was the original "Little Ball of Hate." That was his nickname first. Hey, maybe we bring down Marchand on trademark infringement, like they got Capone for tax evasion.
"I prefer to say that I worked hard to get under people's skin," Verbeek said. "I wasn't a friendly player. I pushed the rules to the limit. Sometimes I was on the right side of them, sometimes I was on the wrong side of them. … So, I get Marchand. Absolutely. It's what helps him play well. If there's a fire burning in your belly, it brings you to a more acute awareness of what's going on, to where you can be on top of your game."
Here comes Lightning-Bruins. Brad Marchand is sure to be in the middle of it, belly burning, a finger in everyone's eye, without apology.
"I had to play a certain way to get in the league," Marchand said. "That's kind of where I came from. I wouldn't change a thing going back, I wouldn't change anything that happened. I'm in a pretty good place. I'm happy with where I'm at. It all came from having to get here, having the will and drive to get here and wanting to be here. There are a lot of things people want to look at, pick apart my game, but if you could put any of them in my position, to do anything to make their dream come true … I'm pretty damn sure they'd do it, too."
Go ahead. Boo. Marchand can't hear you. He's too busy trying to lick you. One way or another.
Contact Martin Fennelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly
Five biggest Tampa Bay sports villains
1. Coco Crisp, Red Sox. Coco went cuckoo, igniting a brawl when hit by a James Shields' pitch (and nearly hit by a Shields haymaker) in a 2008 game at Fenway.
2. Pedro Martinez, Red Sox. Speaking of brawls and Red Sox, Pedro drilled Gerald Williams during a 2000 game when he ended up tossing a 1-hitter.
3. Eric Lindros, Flyers. The Lightning's first hated opponent, the result of a nasty 1996 playoff series that featured Lindros getting drilled on a hip check by defenseman Igor Ulanov.
4. Brett Favre, Packers. His trash-talk with Warren Sapp seemed all in good fun, but, man, Favre used to just carve up the Bucs.
5. Philadelphia. The entire city and all of its obnoxious fans.