To his opponents, he's a nightmare. A pest. A nuisance. A troublemaker. A rat.
To his teammates, he's a stalwart. An asset. A weapon. A necessity. A rat.
Hmm, looks like that last one's the perfect starting point. That, and Bolland's ability to shut down the opposition's top scorers, which is his primary task.
"He's got good play selection, he's got good patience with the puck," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "He seems to know the dangers defensively. He knows the strength of the opposition's top guys and he can nullify them pretty efficiently. When you don't have him, you really miss him."
Potent scorers such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp are the main reason the Hawks are one of the top teams in the NHL and a favorite to win the Stanley Cup. At the same time, Bolland's defensive skills and stealthy offense (eight goals, five assists through Tuesday) are just as valuable.
He also thinks outside the penalty box, so to speak.
"He's really smart, so he knows how to play defensively and the little things after the whistle when the refs aren't looking—whacking sticks out of hands, pushing guys' helmets over their faces, doing little things like that that really get on their nerves," Toews said. "Once he sees guys getting pissed off, he knows he's got ya, and even after that he just turns it around on you."
How do you know when it's working?
"When they start swattin' at him and swearin' at him, trying to hit him," Toews said. "It's crazy."
Driving opponents nuts: check. Any other benefits of Bolland's tactics?
"The biggest thing is when they're taking penalties against him—frustration, retaliation penalties," Kane said. "I've always said I'd love to play against him to see how he is to play against when he gets under those guys' skin.
"[He's] maybe like a Ron Artest, someone who can shut down the opposing team, but he's good offensively. He's always yapping away, too."
For the record, Bolland could do without the nickname.
"You sort of embrace it a little bit, but also I think nobody likes to be called 'The Rat,' " the 25-year-old center said. "I don't like it really, but my other nickname is 'The Greyhound.' [Ex- teammate] Ben Eager called me greyhound because I'm so skinny, and that's the one I've stuck with."
Nevertheless, he said he took to the role of annoying the other teams' stars a few seasons ago, shortly before the Hawks won the Cup in 2009-10.
"Whenever you follow [opponents] around the ice and are tapping at them, they know that you're around," Bolland said. "I may put my two cents in and chirp a little bit, but I think most of the time it's just playing those other players hard, always being on them and playing tough against them."
Sometimes those two cents stretch 2,000 miles—like to Vancouver. The Hawks have played the Canucks in three straight postseasons, eliminating them twice. The rivals' next regular-season showdown isn't until Jan. 31, but in a recent appearance on WGN-AM 720, he referred to Vancouver's Sedin brothers, Henrik and Daniel, as "sisters."
Bolland was asked if they still would be sisters if they were Blackhawks.
"Well, they'll never become Hawks. … We'd be sure not to let them on our team," he said. "And yeah, they probably still would be sisters. I think they might sleep in bunk beds. The older one has the bottom one, the younger one got the top."
A few days later, Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault played into Bolland's hands.
"When you have comments like Bolland's, obviously [it's] an individual whose IQ is probably the size of a birdseed and he's got a face that only a mother could look at," Vigneault said, according to TSN.
Yikes. Clearly Bolland's at the top of his game in the agitation department. His teammates, for their part, certainly notice.
"To do what he does every night, the defensive role, and to be offensive, it's a hard task to have, and he's been good," winger Bryan Bickell said. "That's why Chicago likes him the way he is."
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