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Updated: June 11, 2013 11:04AM
Brad Marchand is called “The Little Ball of Hate,’’ which is just about the greatest nickname ever. It’s borrowed from former NHL player Pat Verbeek, but that’s OK. It fits Marchand like a spiked black glove.
President Obama referred to him that way during a White House reception recognizing the Bruins’ 2011 Stanley Cup title, and the nickname gained traction.
“He went into the season playing on the fourth line, but ‘The Little Ball of Hate’ shrugged off the rookie jitters and — what’s up with that nickname, man? — scored five goals in the last five games of the final series,’’ Obama said.
Just to be clear, the small orb of hostility is not a dictator from North Korea but a hockey player from Boston.
When the Stanley Cup Final opens Wednesday at the United Center, the Blackhawks will have to deal with Marchand, who is, hands down, the most annoying player in the NHL. In a sport with endless opportunities to hit, slash and maul opponents, that’s saying something.
The Hawks will attempt to respond with commensurate antagonism in the form of Andrew Shaw. Shaw has been known to aggravate opposing players to the point of distraction, if not homicidal thoughts. What should we nickname him? “The Square Jaw of Spite?”
This is the battle royale of irritants. There is respect, at least from Shaw’s side, at least for now.
“He does what he needs to do, and he’s great at it,’’ the Hawks’ third-line center said. “He’ll get under the skin. He’ll score goals. He’ll skate. He’ll hit. He’ll try to draw penalties. He can do it all.
“I’d like to be like that. He’s been in the league longer. I’ve got a lot more to learn. I’m not to that point yet, but hopefully at some point in my career, I will be.’’
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville will give his team a parent’s admonition about Marchand — “just ignore him’’ — but he has to know it’s not that easy. You can’t ignore a toothache.
“They’ve got some players that have certain traits about them,’’ he said. “… We want to make sure we play intelligent against not just him but anybody.’’
Marchand is 5-9, 183 pounds, and, according to a tweet from the Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty during a double-overtime game a few years ago, mostly schnoz: “This game is longer than Marchand’s nose.’’
That’s the kind of venom Marchand brings out in people. It’s what he brought out in the Pittsburgh Penguins during the Bruins’ sweep in the just-completed Eastern Conference finals. Fine with him.
“Guys’ tempers are going, and there’s a lot of intensity out there,’’ he told reporters. “It’s just kind of right there in your face all the time, and it’s fun to be a part of.”
In Game 2 of that series, he went to great lengths to knock into Sidney Crosby’s skate and received a tripping penalty. Oh, and he scored twice. In Game 3, he tripped Chris Kunitz after a whistle and was called for kneeing. In Game 4, he achieved perfect balance in his life by drawing two penalties and getting called for two more.
If there’s a dustup after action stops, you’ll often see Shaw in the middle of it, giving someone a face massage with one of his gloves. Same with Marchand. Canucks fans might recall how he threw four straight gloved jabs at the Vancouver Canucks’ Daniel Sedin during Game 6 the 2011 Final and somehow escaped without a penalty.
Basketball coaches say, “jump,’’ and their most devoted players say, “how high?” Hockey coaches say, “eye gouge,’’ and their designated pests say, “how deep?’’ Marchand and Shaw are the kind of guys who have always done what their coaches told them to do.
It’s a fine line. Shaw lost his composure at the end of Game 3 of the Red Wings series, and it was an ugly mess of hacking and cursing. But being a fiery player is the best way for him to make it in the league. Through the years, the message from his coaches was always the same.
“Play that third-line mentality, that energy,’’ he said. “Always bring it every shift. Play every shift like it’s your last.’’
He is the Hawks’ latest yapping provocateur, taking over from Dave Bolland. Both are good at drawing penalties. The best way to deal with people like this is pepper spray, but that’s not legal in the NHL, which is odd because everything else is.
Shaw, who is 5-10, will battle in front of the Boston net with the Bruins’ 6-9 defenseman, Zdeno Chara.