Brad Marsh played in 75 games with the Red Wings, doing so in the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons with four goals and seven assists.
In no more than a handful of games, intense dislike can develop between two teams and can easily escalate into on-ice brawls, dirty play and heated fan involvement.
For former Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brad Marsh, though, it’s the more deeply-rooted rivalries, such as the one between the Wings and the Maple Leafs that have earned their deserving place in hockey lore.
“When you look at the history of the series, the head-to-head battles that go back so many years, a heck of a lot longer than the rivalries that they talk about today,” Marsh said. “The Detroit-Toronto rivalry that goes back to almost the start of the NHL. It was a very neat rivalry and neat to be a part of it.”
As someone who played for the Philadelphia Flyers for seven seasons in the 1980s, it wasn’t until late in his career though – after his time in the city of Brotherly Love – that he experienced the Wings-Leafs rivalry firsthand.
“I’m from London, Ontario, originally, and so when you’re in London, there’s a huge Detroit following and obviously a huge Toronto following,” Marsh said. “And so it was a huge thrill for me, even though it took me a long time to be on the Leafs in my NHL career, it was a huge thrill to be in opposition against the Leafs and against the Detroit Red Wings and it was very special when I got sent to Toronto in 1988.”
Pictures of Marsh as a boy in a Leafs jersey that he got for Christmas prove his early allegiances to the team. But the team that Marsh joined hardly resembled the 1967 Stanley Cup champion team that Marsh rooted for as a child. Rife with management issues, the Leafs’ organization of the late-80s was in one of the low points of its history.
“When I played with the Leafs I very much enjoyed being a Maple Leaf and loved being part of the organization,” Marsh said. “But unfortunately when I was there it was during (owner) Harold Ballard’s senile years and in the media and the press it was kind of a circus-like atmosphere.
“My third year when I was a Leaf, I was there with five coaches. The last year, when I was traded to Detroit in February, we had changed coaches once again and I wasn’t playing at all in Toronto and the easy thing for me to do was to retire, because I was an older player, but I wanted to keep playing.”
Marsh managed to keep playing when the Leafs traded him to the Wings for an eighth-round draft pick in February 1991, a move that helped him realize just how different the two franchises were at the time.
“I was traded from Toronto to Detroit and it was going from a circus-like atmosphere, if you will, to a very, very stable franchise that had bonified NHL players on it such as Steve Yzerman,” Marsh said. “And I was just blown away by the professionalism and the attitude of not only the team but of Steve Yzerman himself.
“When you get into your 30s you never know how long you’re going to play. So I relished every moment of being a Detroit Red Wing on a very classy organization led by Mike Ilitch and Steve Yzerman.”
Marsh considers himself lucky for being able to reach a milestone while in Motor City that many NHL players never reach.
“I got to play my 1,000th hockey game as a member of the Detroit Red Wings,” he said. “Unfortunately it wasn’t going to happen as a member of the Leafs; they had different plans and different ideas about moving forward, and I wanted to keep playing simply to play my 1,000th game. I was very proud to achieve that mark as a Red Wing.”
The year after he achieved that mark, Marsh was traded to the Ottawa Senators, where he retired with 1,086 games.
Still competing with the Ottawa alumni association, Marsh had the opportunity to play in both the 2011 Heritage Classic and the 2012 Winter Classic alumni games for Calgary and Philadelphia, respectively.
“I was part of the Classic in Calgary two years ago,” Marsh said. “And then I was part of the Winter Classic in Philadelphia last year and I, like a lot of people, we have our fingers crossed that we may be part of the upcoming Winter Classic.”
In front of a crowd of 45,808 fans at Citizens Bank Park, the Flyers and New York Rangers alumni squared off in the highly-promoted alumni game.
“It was amazing,” Marsh said. “I had been to the baseball field and seen a Phillies game, and to walk out from the tunnel out to the ice and see how many thousand fans, the place was sold out and the place just went crazy because the Flyers have such a tradition in the Philadelphia area and I expect it to be the same atmosphere in Detroit.”
Still in good athletic condition, Marsh offered an insider take on the competitive aspect of alumni games, joking that, “Sometimes when you talk about alumni hockey, you win by default if you’re in better shape and not as heavy as your competition.”