Hockey MVP Chase Marchand still has goals at St. F.X.

Hockey MVP Chase Marchand still has goals at St. F.X.

By: Monty Mosher

Chase Marchand knows where he hopes to end up. But he's in no hurry to get there.

The goalie from Hammonds Plains, N.S., wants to be in the NHL, where cousin, Brad, plays for the Boston Bruins.

The reigning conference MVP for the St. Francis Xavier X-Men got a taste of it this summer, joining the Chicago Blackhawks for a development camp and rookie tournament.

"It was definitely a great experience," Marchand this week as the X-Men, AUS champions in 2016 and 2017, prepared for a game Friday night at Moncton. The team started with overtime losses against Acadia (2-1) and Saint Mary's (5-4) with Marchand in goal for both contests.

"I had a lot of fun. There was some great hockey being played so it was a good couple of weeks of development, for sure."

Marchand was one of six goalies invited for an audition by the Blackhawks. One was Halifax Mooseheads goalie Alexis Gravel, a sixth-round draft pick by Chicago this off-season.

Wanted to leave an impression

"I think every hockey player wants to play in the NHL," said 22-year-old Marchand, now a veteran of the Canada Games, Memorial Cup and University Cup. "My goal there was to turn some heads."

It's the second time he's had a chance to perform for NHL coaches beginning with the Colorado Avalanche two years ago.

But Marchand is equally motivated in the classroom in his third year with the X-Men. He is determined to complete his degree in business before embarking on his pro career. That might mean returning next year, although he's not certain of the logistics.

"I'm not too eager to leave a great school and a great hockey association just yet. I want to graduate and get my degree -- and I want to play in the NHL."

He said there is more to it than making a dollar stopping pucks.

"If I wanted to play pro hockey then I would have played pro hockey right after I was done junior," he said. "The school route is very valuable and, in my opinion, there is no point in rushing some things.

"For me, it was wise to come to school and not only develop as a goalie but as a person as well. I think something you can say about St. F.X. is they develop great athletes and great people as well. I'm very proud to be a student-athlete."

'Always wants to improve'

Head coach Brad Peddle said Marchand's rise to prominence within the program has been special to watch, right from a time when he competed for playing time as a rookie.

"He got to play significant minutes and he earned it," said Peddle. "He kept playing well night after night and week after week. He led the team to an AUS championship and was playoff MVP and he was a first-team all-star. That's tremendous in your first year.

"The thing about him is he always wants to improve. That wasn't good enough for him, He doesn't get complacent. He always challenges himself to be better. He came back the next year and even topped it and was league MVP."

But it's hard to get Marchand to say much about himself.

"He doesn't look for accolades at all," said Peddle. "He doesn't need a pat on the back. He's very self-motivated. He's one of the hardest workers not only on the ice every day but in the gym. He's very committed."

Goaltending began for Marchand in elementary school. He didn't like to stickhandle, so, as the legend goes, his father hooked him up with some used goalie gear.

It wasn't long before he had to hit the road. After time in major midget with Cole Harbour, where he was MVP, and in junior A with Amherst, he embarked on a major junior career that saw him play in Cape Breton, Mississauga, Victoriaville and Rouyn-Noranda.

He left home at a difficult time. His older brother, Cole, died after drinking a tea made from a poppy seed pod only a few months before Chase had to pack his bags. To this day his brother is never far from his thoughts on or off the ice.

Memorial Cup run with Rouyn-Noranda

He became a sensation in Rouyn-Noranda, posting a 2.42 goals-against average, the best in the league, in 38 games in 2015-16. But he lowered that number to 1.35 in 19 playoff games as the Huskies won the QMJHL and went to the Memorial Cup.

Rouyn-Noranda made it to the final, losing 3-2 to the London Knights, with Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk, in overtime. Marchand played in all five games with a 2-2-1 record.

In his first year with the X-Men, he had a 2.78 goals-against average in 19 games. In his sophomore year, he was a first-team all-Canadian and the U Sports goalie of the year with a 2.38 mark, and a .922 save percentage, in 22 games.

He entered an X-Men team that had won the AUS, and U Sports silver, the year before he arrived. St. F.X. defended the conference title in his rookie year with consecutive one-goal victories over UNB.

"I came into a great team and the connection between all the players was there," Marchand said. "I think we had a really special group. Everybody had respect for everybody else."

His second year was bittersweet with personal honours coming in abundance. But the team lost the AUS final in two straight games to UNB.

The X-Men rallied to make it to the final at nationals, only to lose 4-2 to Alberta in Fredericton. It would have been the second national title for the X-Men and first since 2004. Marchand made 23 saves in the gold-medal contest, a game that saw St. F.X. go up 2-0 before faltering.

Accolades a bonus

He said it was a privilege to be singled out for his play.

"When you receive an award like that it says a lot about the team. I really couldn't have played well without the other five guys battling in front of me. You've got guys like our captain Craig Duininck who almost stopped as many pucks as I did throughout the year. That's the kind of team we have."

Every year is different and the conference is always tight. Marchand expects the X-Men to be there at the end.

"The start of our year doesn't really show anything about our team yet. We have a lot of young guys and we're still trying to learn as a team. We lost some key players, but Brad always does a great job of finding great recruits.

"We have 23 character players that are willing to grind every night."

For Peddle, it's the same old Marchand, and that's a good thing.

"He's as grounded as he ever has been. He's focused on helping this team win and continuing to improve. And school as well. He's a serious student. But he's quite impressive how he carries himself. He's become a really important leader on our team just by that."

(Monty Mosher is an award-winning sportswriter with more than 30 years covering university sport. He can be reached at mosher100@eastlink.ca)