How Boston Bruins’ Brad Marchand returned from injury early

There’s a famous story about Brad Marchand’s exit meeting in Boston after his rookie season.

During Marchand’s design process and early in his pro hockey career, he was often reminded of what he could not achieve. NHL teams thought he was too short (a 5’7″ forward was especially too short when he slumped). Boy Scouts said Marchand’s skating wasn’t good enough. NHL evaluators believed discipline was an issue. He’s been told his skills probably don’t have a high ceiling.

Marchand, who was picked in the third round in 2006, was called up to the NHL for 20 games in 2010. It takes you playing a few games, being in the playoffs and seeing how the NHL is,'” Marchand recalled. “He said: ‘Next year if you come in and you’re a good energy player, play in the fourth row, score maybe 10 goals, I think that would be a great year for you.'”

Marchand, who was 21 at the time, didn’t like that attitude. The winger’s response: “I think I could score 20 goals in this league.”

“[Chiarelli] Art looked at me and laughed,” Marchand said. “I hadn’t scored a goal in the league at that point. I had an assist in 20 games. I hadn’t done much. I think it surprised him.”

There’s one thing you should know about Brad Marchand: Set boundaries, and that gives him determination. He often defies other people’s expectations of him.

Just look at the most recent example: he defied the doctors and returned more than a month ahead of schedule after double hip surgery, scoring twice and adding an assist in his first game last Thursday.

MARCHAND SCORES 21 GOALS during his sophomore season — and since then his career has reached heights perhaps only he could have imagined. At 34, he is one of the league’s first superstars. He’s still a nuisance — few hound pucks like Marchand, and he still lives up to his moniker as the “Little Ball of Hate” — but no player in the NHL plays with that edge and consistently ramps up his performance.

Since that farewell meeting in 2010, only Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares and Patrick Kane have scored more goals than Marchand’s 353.

Marchand hit a crossroads this past offseason. The Bruins were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games. Fans wondered if Boston’s core was aging and another Stanley Cup window had closed.

Marchand has struggled with lower body injuries in recent seasons. Despite a groin operation and a sports hernia operation, the problems flared up again and again.

Marchand was given a choice by the Bruins’ medical team: he could have hip surgery or keep trying to play through and try to strengthen his physique that way.

“They said, ‘We think you should have surgery, but it’s up to the player,'” Marchand said. “I didn’t want to waste any time. We finished earlier than we had planned, so I bought a few more weeks.”

His goal was to play as long as possible, so he decided it was a good idea to have surgery.

Then another decision: surgery on one hip or both hips? Marchand asked his doctor if they only did one hip, could they guarantee he wouldn’t have to have the other hip done in a few years?

Marchand didn’t want to have to go through that process again at the age of 36 or 37.

When the doctor said no, Marchand decided that a double hip arthroscopy and a labral repair were his best options.

“One of the first things the doctor said to me afterwards [surgery] was, ‘You’re lucky you did both because you would have been done in a year or two,'” Marchand said. “Because at that point I would have needed a total hip replacement and my career would have been over.”

Then the doctor told Marchand something he didn’t want to hear: The recovery time was six months. He would be on hiatus until American Thanksgiving.

Marchand didn’t like the prospect. So he found a way to change it.

“Personally, I feel like when you’re told something, it’s just a limitation you’re setting for yourself — or in this case, my recovery,” Marchand said. “Six months, that’s a long time. And especially when I heard why I needed it. Unfortunately, it was because I needed extra time to get back in shape. My immediate thought was, ‘Okay, how can can we do it sooner?'”

MARCHAND LEVEL WITH his medical team. “I said, ‘We can do this two ways,'” he recalled. “You can help me where I do and we’ll make sure I don’t get hurt. Or I’ll just do it behind your back because I’ll do what I think I need to do coming back early and I’ll probably hurt myself because I don’t know what to do and I’ll do it anyway.”

Marchand said he wants to play on opening night. The medical team countered with a more realistic compromise.

Everyone agreed to circle the last week of October on the calendar, about five weeks ahead of schedule.

The first part of the rehab process involved rest.

“We had a newborn at home and I felt worse for my wife than I did for myself,” Marchand said. “I was fine, I just had to lie on my couch.”

Then Marchand returned home to Halifax. He hadn’t been able to spend time at home for the past two summers amid the COVID-19 pandemic and wanted a chance to see his family.

Marchand’s coaches in Halifax (Matt MacIntyre) and Boston (Scott Waugh) stayed in constant communication. “Everyone was on the same page,” he said. “What was important.”

Marchand flew back to Boston every 7-10 days for check-ups.

He wasn’t even cleared to skate until October, which was the hardest part. He also couldn’t lift anything heavier than 20 pounds for most of the summer, so the rehab included a lot of stretching and bodyweight exercises.

“I get very scared for my routine every summer when I skate,” Marchand said. “It was very hard to put that aside and accept the fact that I can’t.”

But he focused on what he could do. To keep up his physical condition meant cycling.

“I had to hammer bike rides, so I said give me bike rides that I’m not going to hurt myself on,” Marchand said. “I started doing two bike rides a day, one in the morning and one in the evening, about a month before I was supposed to.”

Marchand agreed with the medical team: if he felt sore, he would take days off. But that only happened a few times.

And when he returned to Boston ahead of the season, he was right on track with his return in late October.

For Marchand, it all comes down to his philosophy as a player.

“If you don’t set goals and you don’t launch things that you want to achieve, then you just stagnate and there are people around you who excel and work to be better than you,” he said. “Even when you set goals, you want them to be realistic — but you also want them to be realistic, because when you’re aiming for things that you’re going to achieve every year, you want to push it to the extreme. Point, at.” where it may be unreachable, allowing you to go places you wouldn’t have gone before.”

Often, Marchand’s career has been geared towards proving people wrong. He sees it differently: He is always right.

At 34, he credits his success to his work on the “mental side of the game” – something he’s devoted more time to over the years.

“I don’t think people realize how big that is – how you can change your game and your confidence and perspective on who you are as a player and where you can end up,” he said. “The more work I put into it, the more I realized what I could achieve in the league.” How Boston Bruins’ Brad Marchand returned from injury early

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