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There are about 10,000 taste buds on the average human tongue.
A whole bunch of them made a savoury full-frontal slurp of Ryan Callahan’s face during a post-whistle scrum in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semi-final between Tampa Bay and Boston.
Brad Marchand was the tongue-molester, flexing his muscular mouth organ against the Bolt’s mug.
I don’t know if Marchand has a weird underlying condition whereby he craves the taste of an opponent’s flesh, like some children have a compulsion to eat dirt — geophagia, it’s called. More likely there’s no disorder, merely the bizarre fixation with getting under a player’s skin by licking skin.
Perhaps preferable to taking four punches in the puss, which is what Marchand claims Callahan did to him before the close encounter of the saliva kind. Not quite quid pro quo, though.
OK, athletes are all the time spitting. Their mouths go dry from exertion and stress. They hork. But nowhere in the annals of sport could I find any previous instance of any other intra-athlete spittle-exchange. Marchand owns that niche, part of his pest toolbox. And he’s a repeat offender.
Got all lickety-spitty with Leo Komarov during the first round with Toronto, planting a peck on Komarov’s cheek after a minor scuffle. “I thought he wanted to cuddle,” the Grade A agitator teased later. “He’s been trying to get close to me. I don’t know if he’s got a thing for me or what. He’s cute.”
Komarov had been a prior target of Marchand mild lechery back in November – that was a double-buss, actually. The Leaf winger was unflappable over the flappers. “I told him I have a wife and a baby so I can’t do it right now.”
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In 2014, Marchand planted a wet one on teammate Jarome Iginla. In 2015, it was Max Talbot, who’d assisted on Marchand’s OT goal against the Flyers. In 2016, he tried to lay a lip-check on Dallas’ Patrick Eaves, who ducked.
But Exhibit A has turned into Exhibit X-rated during this post-season. Not quite the length and breath of KISS bassist Gene Simmons or the Stones’ Mick Jagger, yet quite reptilian all the same.
Callahan was not amused by Marchand’s tongue probe.
“It’s unfortunate that he goes that low to do that, but doesn’t take us off our game. Hopefully the league looks at it. I don’t know what the difference between that is and spitting in somebody’s face. If I’m not mistaken, spitting is a game misconduct, if not a gross.” That’s gross as in gross misconduct — extreme unsportsmanlike conduct, eliminated by the NHL in 2000, replaced by game misconduct — and not gross as in ewww, although probably that too. “I’m just surprised that something isn’t done,” Callahan told Chris Johnston of Sportsnet. “I don’t know what the difference is between spitting in someone’s face and licking it.”
From Tampa coach Jon Cooper: “There is absolutely no place in our game for that. I don’t get it. I don’t understand it. I don’t. How would you feel if I walked over to you right now and gave you one big lick from the chin up?”
There’s a hint of homophobia in all this smack-face conniption, players recoiling from Marchand’s advancing pucker as if they’d much rather get a face-wash with a glove or a manly sock in the jaw.
The pearl-clutching brigade had their jockstraps in a knot, of course, claiming Marchand was making a mockery of hockey. The Callahan episode triggered more outrage than, say, Washington’s Tom Wilson jaw-breaking drilling of Pittsburgh’s Zach Aston-Reese (three game suspension).
Don Cherry, who famously kissed Doug Gilmour on Coach’s Corner, tried to restore a bit of sanity to the hysteria on the Saturday night broadcast, while admonishing the player for riling referees with his antics, which might have cost Marchand in penalties not called for infractions against him. “It was a kiss, it was a kiss, come on, it was just a little kiss. He’s from Montreal, it’s a French kiss.” (In fact, Marchand hails from Halifax.) Adding a caution: “No kids, you never do this.’’
It wasn’t a French kiss; there was no intertwining of tongues, deep into tonsil territory, from what I could see.
But the league, which took no action after the Marchand-on-Komarov playoff snuffle, has clearly had a bellyful of wayward tongue. By Saturday afternoon, the NHL head office confirmed that its kiss police had called player and Bruins GM Don Sweeney on the shag. As per the tweeted statement: “The League put the player on notice that his actions last night are unacceptable and similar behavior in the future will be dealt with by way of supplemental discipline.”
Ooh, Marchand must have been shaking in his rockers.
The Bruins assured the league they would put a leash on Marchand’s thither-and-yon labials. Coach Bruce Cassidy, keeping it short and kiss-off terse at his off-day press conference: “Brad has to stop licking. That’s the end of the story.”
Have we seen the last of Marchand’s clapper? Has he been tongue-tied by the spit-sticklers?
For this season, yes. Boston was eliminated by Tampa on Sunday, four games to one. (Toronto says thank you.)
But I hope Marchand will take his league ticking and keep on licking.
Memo to Mrs. Marchand: Do you know where your husband’s tongue has been?
Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno