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By Aaron Mansfield

SPECIAL TO THE NEWS

This is the sixth in a series of Saturday stories profiling the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013.

Todd Marchant remembers waiting for mom and dad to walk downstairs.

As a boy, he’d wait until their footsteps were faint before sneaking out his clock radio to tune to the smooth sound of Rick Jeanneret’s voice.

Every time Marchant went down the ice playing youth hockey, he would pretend he was Gilbert Perreault.

Jeanneret and Perreault have already been inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. Marchant joins two of his childhood heroes later this month. The longtime NHL center will be inducted on Oct. 30.

“Dreams do come true,” Marchant said. “Small kid from Buffalo, New York – most people probably never really gave me a chance to be successful, and I made it, made it at the highest level. I always tell the kids I talk to, and at the hockey school, dreams do come true. It’s always good to dream, good to set goals. I’m living proof that if you believe in something, that it is possible.”

Marchant is quick to mention the Todd Marchant Hockey School, which takes place every summer in the Northtown Center at Amherst. He says the camp has raised more than $75,000 for charity in its 15 years. It also lets him teach the game he loves to youngsters with eyes as wide as his once were. And, it brings the Williamsville native back home to Western New York.

Marchant now lives in Anaheim, Calif., where he is the director of player development with the Ducks organization – but Western New York, in his mind, is still home.

“I spent 18 years of my life there and 22 years of my life somewhere else, but I always call Buffalo home,” said Marchant, who owns a home in Clarence. “People say, ‘Where you from?’ ‘Buffalo.’ ‘Where do you live now?’ ‘California, but I always will be from Buffalo.’ I take pride in that, in saying that. To be accepted into the hall of fame in a sports town with all the tradition that Buffalo has for sports, it’s pretty special.”

Marchant played 17 seasons in the NHL, with the New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim. The Williamsville East graduate played 1,195 games, the most of any player from the 1993 NHL draft.

That accomplishment is all the more incredible considering he played at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds in a day and age when big men ruled the sport.

“I think it was a combination of hard work and a drive that I wanted to be the best,” Marchant said. “I wanted to be that every year. I was certainly gifted with talent, God-given talent, I guess, but you had to pair that with hard work. I’m not a very big guy, never was, and I had to overcome a lot of those things in order to make it in what you’d call a big man’s game.

“I broke in in the early ’90s, when that’s the way the game was played – clutching, grabbing, very difficult, nowhere near the way the game is played today. You see a lot more smaller players in the National Hockey League today than you ever did before because of the way the game is played. I had to overcome a lot of those things, but that’s what drove me – to not only prove critics wrong but to prove to myself that I could play.”

Marchant did not simply exist in the NHL for 17 years – he excelled. The speedy, shifty center had a 60-point season (2002-03) and won a Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007.

Hoisting the Cup is emblazoned in Marchant’s mind as one of his finest memories.

“It’s something that you dream about your whole life that you want to accomplish,” he said. “Every little kid that plays in their driveway or on the pond or whatever, it’s always going down the ice in Game Seven of the Stanley Cup finals. To be able to actually live it and to win it was a tremendous honor.”

Marchant went from Williamsville East – where he played baseball and hockey – to Clarkson University, where he played hockey two years before being drafted by the Rangers. After a brief stint in the AHL, he played one pro game with New York before the team traded him to Edmonton.

Marchant never thought he could have a long NHL career. For that reason, he signed a four-year deal when he broke into the league with the Rangers.

“I signed a long-term contract because I looked at what the Rangers had and thought to myself, there’s no way I’m knocking Mark Messier or Alexei Kovalev or any of these guys out of their spots right away,” Marchant said. “These guys were still in the prime of their careers. I figured I was going to have a minor-league career. I was protecting myself, basically.”

Marchant found a home with the Oilers. They were a team rebuilding on youth and speed, and he had both. He played nine seasons in Edmonton and became an alternate captain. His most statistically successful years came with the Oilers.

Marchant then signed with Columbus and played just over a year with the Blue Jackets before being placed on waivers, where he was picked up by the Ducks.

He joined the then-Mighty Ducks and finished his career retiring as an Anaheim Duck six years later.

Now a coach with the Ducks, Marchant works as an aide to young players.

“I help the prospects both on and off the ice, because there are always things off the ice that need to be taken care of as well,” he said. “That’s what my job is. If I can help prepare them for professional hockey, then that’s what I’m there to do.”

Marchant’s older brother, Scott, is a lawyer in Buffalo. He went to SUNY Geneseo and played college hockey there. The youngest brother in the family, Terry, went to Lake Superior State and was drafted by the Oilers while Todd was there. Terry played 10 years of pro hockey in the minors.

“We were a hockey family, and we still are,” Marchant said. “All my kids play. My nieces and nephews play. We played for Amherst pretty much all the way growing up. We did things as a family, and it was a hockey family. Everything revolved around the game of hockey.”

That hockey family comes together every year to run the Todd Marchant Hockey School, which is no one-man operation. Marchant says the leadership comes from all across the family.

“For me, it’s a way to give back to a community that’s given me so much,” he said. “We’ve done it every year and we will continue to do it as long as we can.”

Most of the $75,000 the school has raised has gone to SABAH (Skating Athletes Bold At Heart), a Buffalo-based not-for-profit ice-skating school that aims “to provide instruction for hundreds of WNYers with physical, cognitive or emotional challenges,” according to its website.

Marchant spends about 10 days a year in Buffalo now, though it isn’t as much time as he would like. The memories in the area are rich for him, especially from high school sports with the Flames.

His senior year of high school baseball, his squad won the sectional championship at Pilot Field. The game was the same day as his prom, so the seniors used the umpires’ locker room to change and went to prom late.

His sophomore or junior year – he’s not sure which – Williamsville East beat Lockport in a shootout to win the Super Sunday Hockey Championships at Memorial Auditorium.

“That was a big thrill for us,” he said.

Marchant and his wife, Caroline, have four kids: Lillian (14), Ashley (13), Timothy (11) and Bradley (4). They are part of a hockey family through and through – one most well known for the young man who got his inspiration from listening to Rick Jeanerette, imitating Gilbert Perreault and growing up worshipping the Blue and Gold.

The Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame’s 23rd induction dinner will be held Oct. 30 at the Hyatt Regency Ballroom. Cost is $85 per person or $750 for table of 10. Visit buffalosportshallfame.com/ awards-dinner-tickets.