Brad Marsh #8
Article by Bill Meltzer
Brad Marsh was not blessed with great talent. He had neither puck skills nor a fearsome shot. It would be an understatement to say that he was not the most mobile of blueliners. Nevertheless, he became one of the most popular and successful defensemen to ever wear the Orange and Black. Fans identified with him because his love of the game was obvious and he worked his tail off to overcome his athletic limitations. Marsh learned to use his considerable cunning and size to their full advantage. He was absolutely fearless when it came to blocking shots. One of the last helmetless players in the National Hockey League, Marsh put his body on the line every night to help his team win. In the lockerroom, he was one of the acknowledged leaders of the team. Off the ice, his friendly, down-to-earth nature won him admiration from fans and teammates alike. His locker was a frequent stop for reporters. Marsh could always be counted on to provide articulate and honest insight. There may have been scores of players with more natural talent than Brad Marsh but precious few who were more respected.
Charles Bradley Marsh was born in London, Ontario, on March 31, 1958. Always taller than the other kids, it took Brad a long time to grow into his body. From a young age, he was encouraged to play defense. Even as at the midget hockey level, he realized that he would probably not be the next Bobby Orr. A tall, awkward kid, he won over his coaches with hard work and aggressive play. As his body began to fill out, Marsh became a big bodychecker who willingly did the dirty work of clearing out traffic around the net and killed penalties for the hockey team.
Marsh played his junior hockey for London of the OHA. Although he never topped 8 goals in a season, the Atlanta Flames made the 6-3, 220 lb Marsh their first round pick (11th overall) in the 1978 entry draft. His lunchpail style and willingness to sacrifice for the team made him an instant fan favorite. Marsh moved with the Flames from Atlanta to Calgary after the 1979-80 season. In recognition of his strong leadership skills, "Marshy" was named the Flames new captain before the 1980-81 campaign.
Shortly into the 1981-82 season, Calgary dealt him to the Flyers in exchange for former Flyers captain Mel Bridgman. The trade was made because the Flames needed the toughness and two-way capabilities that Bridgman brought to the table, while the Flyers had become frightfully thin in blueline depth. For the next seven years, Marsh would call Philadelphia home. Although Mark Howe (and to a lesser extent, Brad McCrimmon) was the undisputed king of the Flyers blueline in the 1980s, the team also quickly came to rely heavily on Marsh, both on and off the ice. His durability and consistency made him a Flyers mainstay. Additionally, Marsh and his wife Patty, a Philadelphia native, became fixtures in the Delaware Valley community. Brad was always among the team's most active participants in local charities and Patty was a tireless worker in the Flyers Wives Charities program, including helping to organize the annual Flyers Wives Fight for Lives Carnival at the Spectrum.
While Marsh was a heavy body checker and a superior shot blocker (in the same class as Kjell Samuelsson or Craig Ludwig), what set him apart as a defenseman was his positional play. Marsh rarely lost track of his check or got caught trying an ill-advised hit. His lack of speed was rarely a factor, because his checks spent most of their time either trying in vain to prevent being ridden off the play or else losing the puck to Marsh's long reach.
Marsh was a galvanizing, unifying force in the locker room. He would go the extra mile to make a newcomer feel welcome and accepted. For example, Marsh developed an unlikely, but close, friendship with Miroslav "Cookie" Dvorak, the Flyers first European player. Despite a severe initial language barrier, the two defensemen hit it off immediately and became inseparable. Marsh helped Dvorak get settled in not only to NHL life but also to life in the United States. Marsh did not understand all the fuss that was made over him having taken Dvorak under his wing. Said Marsh, "Listen, the bottom line is that I like the guy. He's my friend."
Marsh was similarly fond of Pelle Lindbergh. In fact, he named one of his sons "Erik" in memory of Lindbergh, whose given name was Per-Erik. Marsh, along with Dave Poulin, was one the players that the other Flyers looked to help them cope with the loss of their friend and teammate.
During the Mike Keenan era, the Flyers typically played only four defensemen on a regular basis. Howe, McCrimmon, Marsh, Doug Crossman, and later, Kjell Samuelsson, saw most of the playing time. Keenan's coaching style centered around tearing down his players and then building them back up again-- his way. With a proven veteran like Marsh, he was more apt to let him stick to his established style. However, Keenan and assistant Ted Sator did take minor issue with Marsh's cardiovascular conditioning. Marsh met the challenge and paid more attention to his off-ice regimen. Marsh's stamina grew and he became one of the more underrated defensive defensemen in the NHL.
Marsh only scored 23 regular season goals over his 15 year NHL career, several of which were game winners. One of the most important goals he scored during his career was a crucial shorthanded goal came in game 7 of the 1987 Stanley Cup quarterfinals against the New York Islanders. The goal gave the Flyers a 3-0 lead and virtually assured the final outcome.
As his career moved along and the number of remaining helmetless players began to dwindle, playing without a helmet became one of Marsh's calling cards. By no means an impractical or foolish man, Marsh readily acknowledged that he was taking an unnecessary gamble, especially given the way he threw his body in the path of the puck. However, playing without a helmet became a source of pride to him; indicative of his status as a "throwback" veteran. In December, 1987, Marsh's refusal to wear a helmet almost had tragic consequences.
In a game at the Spectrum against the Boston Bruins, Marsh took a sandwich check from Ray Bourque and Cam Neely near the Boston blueline. Marsh's head was driven into the support beam near the end of the bench. Crashing hard into the support, he then toppled backward and hit the back of his head violently on the ice. Even had he been wearing a helmet, he almost certainly would have sustained a concussion. Without a helmet, it was even worse. Blood poured from his head and he lapsed into unconsciousness as medics rushed to his aid. But for the excellent medical care he received, Marsh could have died. As it was, he sustained a severe concussion and lost a good deal of blood.
Despite still feeling concussion symptoms, Marsh returned to the lineup after missing just four games (something that would not be allowed today). The one concession Marsh made to his injury was temporarily donning a helmet. Keenan tried to cut his ice time in order to ease him back into the lineup. Marsh was largely ineffective for the rest of the season, almost certainly as an after-effect of the head trauma he suffered in the Boston game. After the season, the Flyers, concerned that he would never be the same player again and looking to bring in younger players, left Marsh exposed to the waiver draft. He was claimed by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Marsh was not quite "finished" after the head injury. He went on to play another five NHL seasons. He became more of a respectable 5th or 6th defenseman than the stalwart second pairing player he had become for Bob McCammon and Mike Keenan's Flyers. Although he was a journeyman player for the remainder of his career, making stops in Toronto, Detroit, and Ottawa, Marsh continued to be a popular player everywhere he went and remained much appreciated by grateful coaches and goaltenders. In his final NHL season, 1992-93, Marsh was chosen as one of the special "commissioner's" selections to the Eastern Conference All-Star team. It was a nice gesture for a player who brought so much enthusiasm to his job and truly appreciated each and every day he spent in the National Hockey League.
After his career ended, Marsh became the Director of Team and Business Development for the Ottawa Senators. He also became the proprietor of "Marshy's", a popular club in the Corel Centre.