Goalie Marotte excels after finally finding stability at Robert Morris
It appears Francis Marotte's roster spot finally is safe.
After a youth and junior hockey career that saw him get cut, let go or traded by nine teams, the Robert Morris freshman ranks among the best goalies in college hockey. He is 5-1-1 with a 1.48 goals-against average that is third in the nation and a .951 save percentage that is second.
“He's just been calm, been cool and hasn't let the situation or playing Division I hockey affect him,” said Colonials coach Derek Schooley, whose team is 5-3-2. “He's come in and made all the saves he's supposed to make and throws in a few saves he's not supposed to make in the mix.”
The Quebec-born Marotte is far from a typical freshman. He is 21 and has been away from home since he was 15, when he moved to Colorado so he could improve his English. That's where his long, winding journey began.
The plan was to play for the Rocky Mountain Roughriders 16-under squad, but he didn't make the team. Making matters worse, he couldn't find a host family and was forced to live with the coach who just cut him. He spent eight months sleeping on a bed in the hallway of a cramped apartment.
“I've seen what living under tough conditions was like,” Marotte said. “It made me mature more quickly.”
Marotte eventually caught on with the Roughriders 15-under squad but suffered a torn meniscus at the end of the season. He made the 16-under squad in 2011-12, but the injury limited his playing time.
After that, Marotte moved to South Burlington, Vt., to play for Rice Memorial Prep, where he played well enough to draw the attention of scouts from junior teams. Cowichan Valley of the British Columbia Hockey League held a tryout in Boston with 16 goalies, and the team chose Marotte. He went into the 2013-14 season thinking he had a spot secure, but upon arriving to camp, there were six other goalies he had to beat out. Marotte held them off, but the prize ended up being a backup job.
He played 10 games that season before Cowichan Valley traded him to a team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Marotte said he didn't think playing there would lead to a college scholarship, so he asked for his release. With the 2014-15 season fast approaching, he needed a team. Brief stops with Dauphin of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and Springfield (Mass.) of the United States Premier Hockey League didn't work out. Finally, Marotte landed with the Central Canada Hockey League's Nepean Raiders in Ontario.
He spent two seasons there, and although the team mostly struggled, it benefited Marotte.
“I got lucky to play the amount I did in juniors, and I got a lot of shots and a lot of odd-man rushes,” he said.
Marotte lived with current Colonials teammate Brandon Watt in Nepean, and Marotte decided to join him at Robert Morris
So far, so good. The 6-foot, 195-pound Marotte received his first start in a 2-2 tie Oct. 22 at Canisius. His breakout game came Nov. 4 against then-No. 11 Ohio State, when Marotte made 35 saves in a 6-2 victory.
“For a freshman to go into the rink on a Friday night to play the No. 11 team, that's not easy,” senior defenseman Rob Mann said. “But he went in and was casual, did his thing. That was definitely an eye-opener for all of us.”
And although he displays a calmness on the outside, the thrill of the position is what Marotte said he loves most.
“You're the last guy out there, so it all falls back on you,” he said. “It's high-risk, high-reward, and that's just my personality. I like to put everything on the line.”
Marotte said he hopes a pro career awaits, but for now, he has a place he can call home for the next few years. And he hasn't had to worry about getting homesick, either. His dad has been at every game.
“I'm not getting sick of him, but ... ,” he said with a laugh. “I think it's great.”
Jeff Vella is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @JeffVella_Trib.