WASHINGTON -- With all due respect to Pat Verbeek, who had an outstanding NHL career, he never was called "The Little Ball of Hate" by the President of the United States of America.
The Boston Bruins visited the White House on Monday, part of the spoils of their Stanley Cup championship in June. When President Barack Obama spoke with the team standing behind him in the East Room, he mentioned Brad Marchand as one of the key players during the team's Cup run.
"Brad Marchand went into the season playing on the fourth line, but 'The Little Ball of Hate' -- What's up with that nickname? -- scored 5 goals in the last five games of the series," Obama said to the laughter of some of the politicians and dignitaries in attendance.
Marchand was a huge part of the Bruins' title run, and often found himself in the middle of something important or controversial. Monday's moment, however, was on an even grander stage.
"I wasn't really sure what was going to go on there. It caught me off guard a little bit," Marchand said of President Obama's shout-out. "It was a pretty special time. ... It was fun when it happened. (Zdeno Chara) game me a little shot from behind when it happened. It was all in good fun."
The Bruins were given a private tour of the White House before the ceremony, and were able to meet the President. Massachusetts senator John Kerry also was in attendance, and reportedly the pair of black eyes he had was from a broken nose that happened while playing hockey recently.
Boston will play the Washington Capitals on Tuesday at Verizon Center, so Monday was the perfect day to schedule the ceremony.
"I feel like it brings a sense of closure to this Stanley Cup run when this happens and, what it also does is motivates you to want to come back," coach Claude Julien said. "To me, it served great purposes today."
Added Patrice Bergeron: "I didn't know what to expect. It was fun to be here and walk around, take some pictures, but also try to soak everything in and enjoy it. Meeting the President was obviously a highlight and getting to shake his hand was great."
Goaltender Tim Thomas, one of two U.S.-born players on the team and the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, chose not to attend the ceremony.
"He chose not to come," Boston General Manager Peter Chiarelli said, adding that Thomas would explain his decision on his Facebook page later Monday. "I had some discussions with him over the last couple months. I will let him communicate (his position).
"We're like a family. We have our issues and you deal with them and move on and try to support everyone. It may or may not (overshadow things). I hope it does not, because the guys seemed to really enjoy the day. I really enjoyed the day."
Added Boston president Cam Neely: "Everybody has their own opinions and political beliefs. He chose not to join us. We certainly would have liked to have him come and join us. But it's his choice. It's obviously not a choice most of the guys … well, all of the guys came except for Tim. But it's his decision and his choice."
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly commented on Thomas' decision to not attend the White House visit.
"While we do not agree with Tim Thomas' position, the National Hockey League respects and supports his right to have a political view, and his right to express that view in the manner in which he chose," Daly said.
Obama also praised the team's ability to overcome injuries amid a long playoff run. He discussed some of the places different members of the Bruins took the Cup this summer and some of the activities they did with it.
For the Bruins, it was a reward for a championship season and a chance to see a big part of American history.
"I never thought I'd have a chance to come to the White House and meet the President. It is pretty big," Bergeron said. "It was a very special moment and a special day for us and I'm very happy to be a part of it. (President Obama) was really down to earth. He seemed like a really nice guy. It was great being able to be here for the ceremony. That was something that I'll never forget."
Added Julien: "The most exciting thing is once you actually get inside (the White House), it is the whole history of it. I'm a Canadian, but it doesn't matter. The history of the United States, the Presidents and what they mean to the world is obviously huge and I was able to walk around and see the different portraits. To top it off, you get to see the President of the United States walk into the room and the presence he has. It is just amazing. Shaking his hand is without a doubt the highlight of my day today."
Obviously there's a lot of expectations around me but it's something I try not to focus on. I'm just trying to go out there, be myself on the ice every day, try to get better, be myself around the guys in the locker room. I think that's what's made me successful and the person that I am.
— Sabres forward Jack Eichel on transitioning from college hockey to the NHL