Defensive standout Don Marcotte proves two-way hockey still pays off

Don Marcotte doesn't have the finely chiseled skills of a Guy Lafleur or the ravenous appetite for goals of a Wayne Gretzky or Mike Bossy. However, the rugged left wing's defensive abilities have made him an integral part of the Boston Bruins for 14 seasons.

Today in the National Hockey League, where goals are scored as frequently as traffic tickets are given out in downtown Boston, Marcotte is regarded as a novelty. While the typical hockey player of the '80s acts as if scoring goals is the sole aspect of the sport, the pragmatic Marcotte considers it more important to prevent them. His hard-skating, close-checking style makes one think of the ' 50s and early '60s, when two-way hockey was the name of the game and teamwork took priority over personal glory.

Don lives by the credo: ''If I can skate up the ice, I can also skate back.'' And, when he does so it is usually stride for stride with the opposing winger. His diligent checking of the opposition's top scorers has earned him a reputation as one of the league's best defensive forwards. Marcotte says, ''Every goal I take away from a player on the other team is as good as one I might have scored myself.''

In his first year as a Bruin he established himself as a ''shadow'' by covering some of the league's more elusive skaters - forwards like Bobby Hull, who was known in his prime as the Golden Jet because of his power and speed. Marcotte explains, ''Hull was probably one of the most difficult players to cover because he not only had tremendous strength, but he was also a very clever playmaker.

''Today, I would say that the Colorado Rockies' Lanny McDonald is very difficult because he can take the body checks and he is also good at slipping his cover.'' Marcotte thinks many of the younger players should take a leaf out of McDonald's book. ''Most of the kids coming out of juniors don't know what to do when they are covered; they could learn a lot from Lanny because he operates in close quarters very effectively.''

Others who frequently see a bit more of the broad-shouldered Marcotte than they care to are the New York Islanders' Bossy and the Montreal Canadiens' Lafleur, whom Don covered brilliantly during the 1979 playoffs.

For Marcotte, who is a fluid but not extraordinarily fast skater, the key to success is all in the eyes. As teammate Terry O'Reilly points out, ''Donnie has tremendous concentration. He never takes his eyes off of his winger and he never stops skating.'' What he lacks in speed and finesse he compensates for with hustle and disciplined play. He is a hard body checker who believes in playing the man before the puck, yet as the small number of minutes he spends in the penalty box indicate, he is not a dirty player.

''No one knows the fundamentals of the game better than Don,'' says former coach Don Cherry. ''If you were going to send a hockey player to Mars, it would be Marcotte. They could watch Marcotte play and manufacture perfect players. He skates, checks, and gets his share of goals. That's the perfect hockey player.''

On a more down-to-earth level, Cherry's assessment of the man who has worn the Bruin black and gold all these seasons is certainly applicable in the context of this year's club. It is a team comprised of a good many talented but young and inexperienced players. Of the eight veterans, only Marcotte and Wayne Cashman remain from the glory days of Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, and those two Stanley Cup triumphs in the early '70s.

Bruins general manager Harry Sinden explains, ''We decided to break in as many young players as we could while we still had some high-quality veterans.'' After all, it is difficult to develop kids when they are playing alongside other inexperienced players.

Some of the younger players who have matured very quickly are 18-year-old Norm Leville, Tom Fergus, and Rookie-of-the-Year candidate Barry Pederson, who has established team rookie scoring records for both goals and points. Largely as a result of their progress, the Bruins - while not the powerhouse they were a decade ago - have the fourth best record in the 21-team league and are again cast in the role of a contender as they look ahead to next month's playoffs.

PPppr hz4o MoO the younger players to skate with Marcotte because he too had to work hard to make the club in the beginning,'' Coach Gerry Cheevers says of the man who has become regarded by management as a role model for such newcomers.

Center Steve Kasper, for instance, plays on a line with Marcotte and credits him for much of the progress he has made as a checker since joining the club. Kasper has come into his own as a first-rate defensive forward - effectively shutting down scorers like Gretzky, Kenny Linseman, and Bryan Trottier, while at the same time scoring his own share of goals.

Marcotte and Kasper are the nucleus of the second best penalty killing unit in the league. Don has always been noted for his penalty killing abilities, and during his career he has scored 23 short-handed goals.

Marcotte turned in some particularly fine efforts a short time ago in a Boston hot streak during which the Bruins defeated the Stanley Cup champion Islanders 5-4 and scored back-to-back victories over the Buffalo team they are battling for second place in the Adams Division. In all three games Don scored clutch goals, including a short-handed effort against the Sabres. But when asked what the key to victory was in these games he answered earnestly, ''Defense.''

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