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Young phenom has trip to remember

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

The Penguins and PPG Paints are working together on a series of stories to feature the most colorful fans in the game.

On a snowy Alaska day in late January, Roman Marcotte put on his skates, gloves, toque and Sidney Crosby jersey and headed outside to the rink in his yard.

There, his dad Owen had set up a drill that involved the 8-year-old hockey player stickhandling through pucks and around cones before shooting into an empty net.

As Roman skated, Owen began filming, cheering words of encouragement as he progressed through the course. Roman executed the drill flawlessly, capping it off by firing a shot top shelf and popping the water bottle resting on the net high into the air.

Owen later posted the video of the drill onto Roman's Instagram page, @romanjamesmarcotte, which they started over three years ago - and the video promptly went viral. It garnered over 750,000 views on Roman's profile alone, and got even more after being picked up by outlets like ESPN and Bleacher Report.

The video also caught the attention of Mario Lemieux, who was so impressed by the young phenom that he wanted to reach out to Roman and his family. Personally.

Video: The Penguins invite Roman Marcotte to Pittsburgh

"I had stepped away from my phone for five minutes and had a missed call from Pittsburgh," Owen said. "I called the number back two minutes after they called. And a man's voice answered. I was like 'hello, this is Owen Marcotte, I just missed a phone call from this number.' And he said, 'oh yes, this is Mario Lemieux from the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.' I almost dropped my phone."

Once Owen recovered and realized that it wasn't a prank phone call, the family received the invitation of a lifetime.

"He just talked about Roman and how impressed he was with Roman's hockey skills, and then invited us to Pittsburgh," Owen said. "I immediately called my wife and then I called my dad, like, 'you're not going to believe who I just talked to on the phone: the greatest hockey player of all time.'"

The Marcottes - Roman, Owen, mother Brooke and younger sister Nadia - arrived in Pittsburgh on Wednesday as Lemieux's special guests. They landed from Alaska that afternoon and attended the Penguins' 5-3 win over Montreal that night - where they were surprised with seats in Lemieux's own suite.

"On the itinerary, it showed our seat section and we were in 111," Owen said. That's when an executive assistant for the Penguins told them they were going to head upstairs.

"We walked through the door, and Mario was right there. It was unreal," Owen said.

On Thursday, they went to the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry, where Roman skated with power skating and skill development professional Kevin Muller and skill development professional Trevor Edwards before taking the ice with the players in Excel Academy's middle school training program.

"I really liked skating with the kids from the Excel Hockey Academy," Roman said. "That was really fun."

They wrapped up their time in Pittsburgh by watching Friday's game against New Jersey from Suite 66. The week has been a life-changing experience, to say the least.

"It's been fun. I had an amazing time in Pittsburgh, it's really nice and I might want to move (there)," Roman laughed.

Owen said Roman hasn't quite grasped the magnitude of the experience yet, but with time he will.

"It's hard to put into words, I keep using the term surreal," Owen said. "I'm definitely overusing it, but it's been amazing. I can't believe the Pittsburgh Penguins organization would do something like this for Roman.

"His first hockey experience, his mom's first hockey game, his sister's first hockey game, my second hockey game - it's been amazing. It wasn't just like come in for a game and watch and leave type of thing. There's been an itinerary set up and it's been amazing. This is beyond our expectations."

What Roman was most looking forward to on the trip was meeting Sidney Crosby, which he got to do Wednesday night and then again Friday morning.

"I just think he's really good and nice and talented," Roman said.

Roman is a huge fan of Crosby, wearing his No. 87 jersey for most of the videos posted to his social media feeds. That admiration and respect for the Penguins captain was passed down from his father, who was born and raised in Bear River, Nova Scotia - about an hour and a half from Cole Harbour, Crosby's hometown.

Owen also passed down his passion for hockey to Roman, who hadn't even turned 3 years old the first time he put on a pair of skates. Roman does a myriad of different drills, all compiled for him by Owen. "Sometimes my dad makes them up, sometimes he copies them from videos," Roman explained. "I really like the ones he makes up because they're really fun." Roman's favorite is called the Junkyard Drill, where they set up a bunch of different obstacles and he has to improvise how to skate around them.

"The whole intention is to kind of push the limits as to be right on that border of being comfortable and being uncomfortable, and to keep it fun," Owen said. "Roman loves obstacles courses. My whole thing has always just been provide the opportunity. Give him as many options as he can. And just let him have fun with it."

Roman is game to try anything, and just "really, really, really loves" being at the rink. His parents joked that it feels like they live there.

Their local rink is called the O'Malley Center, which features a restaurant, coffee shop, running track and dryland training room. It's one of those community gathering areas where Owen said everybody there knows everybody.

During hockey season, Roman is on the ice there about nine times a week. He plays for the Alaska Oilers, which is a U-10 team in the Alaska Hockey Association, and then does his sessions with Owen. Over the last year and a half, those sessions have expanded.

"We've had a lot of interest from other parents who want their kids to skate with Roman and I," Owen said. "They can see the gains he's making from what he's doing. Now I honestly have a waiting list of kids."

Or, as Roman put it, a "bucketload" of kids. Roman loves being out with them, and genuinely loves playing the game. His goal is to make it to the NHL one day, and maybe be the next Sidney Crosby. But in the meantime, his parents are thrilled that he's enjoying being a kid playing hockey.

"Honestly, for me, I'm just happy that he likes doing it, and that he's found something that he's passionate about," Brooke said. "You can see him in the games and when he was on the ice with the power skating coaches, he had a huge grin on his face because he loves what he's doing."

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