Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bad boy lives in a bubble

Beantowners in denial over Marchand's illegal hit on Salo

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BOSTON -- The last two or three days around Boston have been nothing short of astounding.

The city, its hockey team and rabid hockey fans have closed ranks on the NHL and the hockey world over the five-game suspension of bad boy forward Brad Marchand.

They are in a bubble, plain and simple. If you had not seen Marchand's Saturday low-bridge check on Vancouver's Sami Salo and only listened and read about the incident here in Beantown, you would be thoroughly convinced that Marchand had done nothing wrong, that he was just trying to protect himself and that the Bruins are virtually the victims in this matter.

Worse, the entire matter is clouded with the vitriol that exists, and is escalating, between the Bruins and Vancouver Canucks, who waged a bitter Stanley Cup final last June.

Marchand was somewhat regretful on Tuesday when he addressed reporters for the first time since his suspension was determined by NHL vice-president of player safety Brendan Shanahan.

But not entirely.

"When that situation arises, I felt I was protecting myself and that I was allowed to do it," Marchand said Tuesday. "That's why I did it."

Marchand will likely be easy to follow going forward. He appeared to receive the message: "I guess it's clear that I'm not allowed to do that and guys in the league aren't allowed to do that. I think they tried to make that clear and I'm going to have to do something else next time."

Before Shanahan's decision, he also said if the check was ruled illegal by the NHL big thinkers, he would get rid of this move. So we will watch.

And yes, you are well aware he's done this go-low business before. Yes, see Game 4 of last year's final on Daniel Sedin, and others.

And yes, there have been other incidents where players have hit Marchand, even other non-Bruins players, that have brought different outcomes and no suspensions.

The Bruins are certainly still seething over the recent past -- this is the victim play -- in that major checks that have caused concussions to Marc Savard and Patrice Bergeron.

The self-defence claim and "it wasn't a low hit" claim, both shot down effectively by Shanahan in his ruling by virtue of considering the 15 or so seconds that preceded the foul and then the foul itself, and the comparisons are where the Bruins continue, to this hour, to disagree and almost chastise the NHL for the ruling.

GM Peter Chiarelli issued a blunt, post-suspension statement continuing the ruse on Monday. All in hockey will laud him for defending his player but the absolute refusal to admit a wrong in this case is more than disappointing. It's also classic bully.

Tuesday's conversation with Marchand was also littered with sniping at the Canucks, who had done their share of it in the prior 48 hours.

Witness -- "Kevin Bieksa said the Bruins play a stupid style," said one reporter.

Marchand responded: "Yeah, we play stupid. Smart enough to win a Cup. But whatever he feels."

Even Bruins coach Claude Julien, as classy a man as you'll find, is having a hard time with this one.

Julien has also defended his player, as he should. He was also casting a few aspersions Tuesday at the NHL for its inconsistencies on this kind of check, and others.

"The one thing you don't want to do is create some uncertainty in players' minds. We've got to be clear. Will it ever happen? I don't know. This is a fast game. A lot of things are instinctive."

We get the passion and the dislike. We get the rivalry. But none of it is justification of what happened here Saturday.

And at least Julien seemed to understand there is no malevolence from the NHL here, but there is worry it was lost at the very end of his remarks Tuesday.

"I know that everybody involved in this sport is trying to do it for the right reasons." Julien said. "So it's pretty hard to criticize and point fingers here when everybody's looking for the better of the game."

Let's hope he means it, because that's not what Boston has sounded like since Saturday.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 11, 2012 D2

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