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World Cup of Hockey

Brad Marchand making mark with Team Canada

Forward showing he's more than agitator playing on top line

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

OTTAWA -- This was a perfect opportunity for Brad Marchand to reinvent himself into the player he wants to be, the player he wants the hockey world to know him as.

He's made his mark with the Boston Bruins as an agitator, and in a way, no matter what he does with Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey 2016, there are many people who will always see him that way.

But you don't make Team Canada by simply being an agitator. You need to be able to play.

Through two pretournament games, including a 5-2 win against Team USA on Saturday, Marchand has proven he can do that.

Team Canada coach Mike Babcock decided to scratch captain Sidney Crosby in large part because his line with Patrice Bergeron and Marchand played so well in a 4-2 loss to Team USA on Friday that Babcock didn't feel the need to see it anymore.

Everyone knew Crosby and Bergeron played well together for Canada in the past, and Marchand has played with Bergeron for years with the Bruins, but to assume that means it would be easy for Marchand to step onto that line and immediately solidify his spot on it would be wrong.

Marchand had to show he belonged there, and at least at this early stage, his ability to do that has seemingly eliminated the constant storyline at these tournaments over who Crosby's linemates should be.

"I'm feeling confident, but I'm also playing with phenomenal players every time I step on the ice, it doesn't matter who I'm with," Marchand said. "It's easy to play with all these guys, so it's easy to feel good out there."

Video: USA@CAN: 1st Period Highlights

Well, not really, because you have to be able to keep up. When playing with a group this talented, this skilled, this quick, this accomplished, anybody who doesn't measure up sticks out.

Marchand has blended in just fine.

That shouldn't be surprising because Marchand's 37 NHL goals last season are more than anyone on Team Canada. But his reputation precedes him. Always.

If Marchand wanted to shed it in this tournament, Team Canada's first two games did not make it easy for him. Friday was a physical game with loads of activity after the whistle, what was once considered Marchand's specialty, and still can be when he needs it. The game Saturday was far more tame, but Marchand still had a running battle with Team USA forward T.J. Oshie that landed them in the penalty box in the third period, with Marchand getting the extra minor.

Just when Marchand thought he was out from his reputation as an agitator by making Team Canada, these games kept pulling him back in.

"I think emotions are high and everyone's getting in there protecting each other and battling for one another, but I was more concerned about playing," Marchand said. "Playing with Sid and [Bergeron], two great players, I'm not worried about doing that other stuff. When guys are going after Sid, I'm going to help out and stuff, but for the most part I'm just trying to play."

Video: CAN@USA: 2nd Period Highlights

Marchand has one assist but has flashed his speed and, yes, his skill consistently. He was dangerous playing on Crosby's wing Friday on what was easily Team Canada's best line, and he was just as dangerous playing with Bergeron as his center on Saturday.

But even if Marchand wants his value as a player to be evaluated based on his skill, there is no doubt his ability to get under an opponent's skin is valued, and is a skill unto itself.

"In a lot of ways he reminds me of a former teammate, Andrew Shaw," Team Canada center Jonathan Toews said, referring to the Chicago Blackhawks. "[It's] the fearlessness, that guy who just gets on your nerves when you're playing against him but all of a sudden you're just on the bench laughing because you love having him on your team."

But Toews was also quick to recognize there is more to Marchand than that. It's not necessarily easy for someone to stick as a linemate for a world-class player like Bergeron for as long as Marchand has, and as past international tournaments have shown, it is not easy to play on Crosby's wing either.

"He's out there getting under guys' skin, but he can make plays," Toews said. "I played with him at the World Juniors a long time ago and I always knew he had the skill, the offense, but I didn't know how smart he was, just positionally as well. I can see why he and [Bergeron] play so well together."  

If Marchand can continue to play just as well with Crosby and Bergeron, it will eliminate what has been a headache for Babcock at the past two Olympics and allow him to focus on the rest of his forwards.

In that sense, Marchand is a vital player for Team Canada in this tournament.

Not bad for an agitator.

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