Brad Marchand is lucky he ever ended up being linemates, roommates and friends with Claude Giroux on Team Canada at the world junior hockey championship. He certainly didn’t endear himself to Giroux with first impressions.

“I butt-ended him in the face,” recalls Marchand, of his first encounter with Giroux in Game 3 of the 2006 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League semifinals.
“I got suspended for one game, so we go way back. We had a rivalry before we even played together.”

That was when Marchand played for the Moncton Wildcats, before either player had achieved junior-hockey superstardom. Giroux let the incident slide at the world junior in the Czech Republic earlier this year and joined forces with Marchand to pile up six goals and 12 points in seven games en route to gold.

“We were real close over there,” the 19-year-old Marchand says.

“We hung around quite a bit, and going through everything we went through together, there’s a special bond.”

The two renew acquaintances Saturday, when Marchand’s Halifax Mooseheads and Giroux’s Gatineau Olympiques kick off the QMJHL semifinals at the Metro Centre.

Marchand and Giroux are the key figures in the series. They lead their teams in scoring, and one rival general manager tells Metro Halifax that “Marchand has to be better than Giroux” if the Mooseheads expect to win the series.

Giroux, a 5-foot-11, 172-pound right-winger, has torched his opponents for nine goals and 18 assists for 27 points in 10 games to lead the QMJHL in playoff scoring.

Marchand says the 19-year-old Giroux “can do it all.”

“He has some of the best hands I’ve ever seen and he’s one of the best passers I’ve ever seen,” says Marchand, who has 18 points in 11 games, including 17 in six home games.

“He knows how to get open for the puck and when he gets it, he’s lethal. He can have his back turned and make a ridiculous backhand pass over three sticks for a wide-open net. You always have to watch him, or he’ll kill you.”

Marchand went so far as to say, “He’s the key to their team. It’s really up to him if they win or not.”

Marchand expects the on-ice battle to be fierce, and — although he’ll probably try to avoid another suspension-worthy butt-end — said the friendship will have to take a backseat.

“There will always be that special bond between us,” he said, “but when we get on the ice, it’s do-or-die for us both.”