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Called Up For Good: Jonathan Marchessault | Part One

How a kid from Quebec City became a Vegas Golden Knight

by Gordon Weigers @GoldenKnights / VegasGoldenKnights.com

Springfield Falcons head coach Brad Larsen had made a lot of phone calls to players in his day. Depending on the nature of the call, the player on the other end either hung up in disappointment or elation.

In January of the 2012-13 season, he made a phone call that wasn't entirely unfamiliar to him. After all, AHL coaches are regularly the bearers of good news when a player is called up to the NHL.

He dialed and, on the other end, was 22-year-old Jonathan Marchessault. He'd just gotten home from practice in Springfield, Massachusetts on a cold day in late January. The conversation itself wasn't long, but the road Marchessault took to receive that call certainly was.

"As a coach, it's a lot of fun to make that call," Larsen said. "Especially at the minor league level. When it's the guy's first time [getting called up], a lot flashes through their mind. Making that call to him, it was a ride. I could hear the excitement and you know as soon as you hang up, he's calling his family and friends. Those are fun moments."

Marchessault never forgot the words exchanged on the phone that day.

"My coach called me, and he said 'Hey, you're getting called up buddy. Do what you do best. You've been good for us, but hopefully we don't see you again,'" Marchessault said.

The course of the next five days saw Marchessault make his NHL debut with the Columbus Blue Jackets, stay with the team for a second game and meet Larsen again back in Springfield after being sent back to the minors. In that time, Marchessault realized a childhood dream, learned a tough life lesson, and made a commitment to himself.

The immediate result of that initial call was the fact that the Cap-Rouge, Quebec native was going to become an NHL hockey player - a goal that Marchessault had set for himself since he began playing the sport. He immediately did what most players do when they learn that they've been called up.

"I started packing my suitcase and I called my whole family," Marchessault said. "I told them I got called up and I remember my parents were yelling, they were super happy. It was a great moment for all of us."

The next couple of hours saw Marchessault hop on a flight bound for Columbus where he officially became a Blue Jacket for the first time since signing a two-way contract with the organization that summer. The forward arrived at Nationwide Arena and went through the same motions he always did on a game day, just with a bit of extra meaning behind each action and interaction.

"All the guys were super nice," Marchessault said. "One of my good friends, David Savard, was there, too. I remember I was playing with Ryan Johansen; he was my linemate before the lockout in the AHL. My left winger was Vinny Prospal, that was pretty cool. He's been through a lot."

By the time puck drop came around, all the people who have been in Marchessault's corner throughout his career were in the stands to watch him compete at the highest level for the first time, including his future wife, Alexandra. With his entire family in attendance to watch him realize a dream, Marchessault simply called the experience "unreal."

Aside from the 12:50 of ice time that Marchessault played, the only other stats he had to show for his first NHL game were zeroes. The Blue Jackets lost, 4-1, and fell to 2-5-1 on the lockout-shortened season.

The next day, he had his first formal practice in the NHL. Still eager to show that he belonged in the league, Marchessault treated the practice like it was more than just an hour on the ice to work on individual and team skills. He said he was nervous at practice and wanted to use the skate as another opportunity to show who he was as a player.

Marchessault found his name in the lineup again on Feb. 2 when the Blue Jackets hosted the Detroit Red Wings. In his 9:03 of ice time, the only statistic on the sheet for him was a -1 rating. He had one scoring chance, but his first NHL goal wasn't in the cards that night. He received a less-than-encouraging piece of feedback from a coach saying that, if he couldn't start converting on those chances, he wouldn't stay in the NHL.

"I was super bummed about that and, after my second practice, I got sent down," said Marchessault.

When Marchessault was first called up, Larsen said he hoped he wouldn't see him again. But there he was unpacking his suitcase back in Springfield just five days later.

His first taste of the NHL gave Marchessault a reality check, and he realized playing in an NHL game doesn't mean you are a permanent NHLer. That stung for the 22-year-old, but it became one of many chips on his shoulder that drove him to become a full-time hockey player in the world's best league.

"I always want to help the team win. I was trying to do my best," Marchessault said. "Honestly, I wasn't ready for the NHL. The NHL was better than me at that time."

Self-confidence is a trait that exists in every NHL player. It's a driving attribute that keeps a player invested in himself through the good shifts and the bad ones. Marchessault's self-confidence took a blow from that experience. His realization that he wasn't ready for the league he dreamed of playing in was a tough pill to swallow, but it put enough of a chip on his shoulder to do whatever it took to get back there.

"With Jonathan, we knew there was so much potential," Larsen said about coaching Marchessault. "For me, I told him he had to invest in his body and focus on conditioning more to give himself the best chance. I think he would be the first to admit he didn't invest in that right away. He got by with his talent."

The rest of the 2012-13 season came and went for Marchessault as he remained with Springfield for the remainder of the year. He finished the season with a team-high 67 points on 21 goals and 46 assists. In the postseason, he registered three assists in eight games before the Falcons were knocked out.

Marchessault skated in 56 games for Springfield during the 2013-14 season. He was called up once to the big club but didn't have time to stir the sugar in his coffee before he was sent back down.

"I showed up for the morning skate and then I got sent right back down," Marchessault said. "It was so tough emotionally. I was young, so it was tough mentally. When you go back down, it's a different game. I was demoralized a little bit by that, but it made me who I am right now."

The harsh reality of being kept from the NHL for another full season weighed on Marchessault, but he chose to grow stronger from it. The forward was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning and he was able to reset himself as a player in his new setting.

His clean slate started by finishing the year with Tampa's AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, where he posted 15 points in 21 games. Marchessault said he loved playing in Syracuse so much that, when he was a free agent at the end of the season, he signed back on with the Lightning organization on another two-way deal.

On Oct. 25, 2014, Marchessault played in his first game with Tampa Bay as the team called him up for a road game against the Minnesota Wild. He called it a "tough game to get called up for" as the Lightning were crushed, 7-2. He was sent back to Syracuse the next day.

After piling up 67 points (24G, 43A) in 68 games in Syracuse, Marchessault was called up for Tampa Bay's final game of the regular season against the Boston Bruins. It was during that game - a 3-2 shootout win - that Marchessault got his name on the scoresheet for the first time.

"I scored my first NHL goal against Tuukka Rask," said Marchessault. "I went high glove; it was just a laser beam. I was pretty pumped about it."

After that game, Marchessault was returned to Syracuse where he joined the Crunch for the playoffs. An early playoff exit led him to believe his season was over, until he was recalled as a "black ace" with the Lightning for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The term refers to reserve players on a team's roster who might not see game action but are akin to having an "ace up your sleeve" in a card game when you need them.

Marchessault watched the Lightning win their first-round series against the Detroit Red Wings in seven games to advance to Round 2 against the Montreal Canadiens. In Game 5 of that series, Tampa Bay forward Ryan Callahan suffered an injury that would keep him out of Game 6 with the Lightning leading the series, 3-2.

At dinner the night before the sixth game of that series, Marchessault's phone rang.

"We were at dinner and having a few cocktails," said Marchessault. "[Head coach] Jon Cooper calls me and he's like 'Buddy, get ready. You might play tomorrow.' And I'm like 'Wow, holy.' So, I ate my meal and stopped drinking as soon as possible and went right to my hotel room.

"Next day, it's Game 6 against the Montreal Canadiens in the second round. So, I get in the game; I did super well. I had a great game, played (on the) power play and everything. And we win Game 6, we moved on to the Conference Final."

Marchessault donned the lightning bolt again in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final at Madison Square Garden as Tampa Bay opened the series on the road against the New York Rangers. His performance in Game 6 against Montreal earned him another nod in the third round even with Callahan back in the lineup. The Lightning lost 2-1 and Marchessault was back in the press box for Game 2.

He looked on as Tampa Bay churned out a gutsy series win in seven games and advanced to the Stanley Cup Final to face the Chicago Blackhawks. After splitting the first four games of the series, Tampa Bay fell in Game 5 and Game 6 to lose the Stanley Cup Final.

Though he didn't appear in that series, Marchessault still looks back on that run as some of his favorite hockey memories: not because of the result, but because of the journey.

"Honestly, it was a great life experience," Marchessault said. "I have great memories with my black aces buddies. That's one thing I loved about Tampa: the vibe there is all about the group of guys. It started from the leadership with guys like Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, they're just good guys. It was an unreal experience."

With the summer came another contract for Marchessault with the Lightning organization. He was assigned to Syracuse for the start of the 2015-16 season and, after recording nine points in 11 games, he was recalled by the Lightning on Nov. 15 for good.

Click here to read Part Two of Marchessault's story!

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