One of southwest Saskatchewan's greatest athletes will be enshrined into the Ted Knight Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame twice this summer.

Patrick Marleau will headline the 2024 class of inductees as a player on July 12 at the InnovationPlex during the 11th annual induction dinner. His second installation of the evening will be with the 1995 Team Saskatchewan which captured the province's only men's hockey gold medal in the history of the Canada Winter Games.

"Sask. holds a special place in my heart," Marleau said. "To get an induction into the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame, I'm really humbled by the honour."

The 44-year-old discovered the double induction idea from a friend and 1995 Team Saskatchewan teammate Jeremy Rondeau.

"He reached out to see if I would be able to come up there and be apart of the ceremonies, and everything is going to workout," he said. 

The celebration event is still several months away. Returning to the region where he first fell in love with the sport is already top of mind.

"To see all my old teammates from the 1995 team," he said will be one of the highlights. "There's going to be a lot of familiar faces that I haven't seen in a few years in Swift Current. Reconnecting with some old friends and I can't wait to have a great night there."

Marleau, born in Swift Current, spent his childhood growing up on a farm in southwestern Sask. near Aneroid with his two oldest siblings, Denise and Richard. He began skating at the age of three and playing hockey at five.

"We had a dugout that would freeze and we'd scrape the snow off of that and go play on that if dad or mom couldn't take us into town to skate at the rink there," he recalled. "It was something to do during the winter, those cold winters, something exciting. I just enjoyed it from the start, I loved it."

His minor hockey career began with Aneroid and by the time he reached 10 years old, they had to join forces with nearby Vanguard to ice a team due to a lack of players. His father Denis coached him until he was 12. Then he attended the Swift Current Broncos Hockey School.

Bronco alumnus and nine-year NHL veteran Terry Ruskowski was helping out at the hockey school and quickly noticed Marleau's skillset.

"Terry (went over and) told my dad that he thinks I was a good player and I should probably pursue it and get more exposure by playing in a bigger town like Swift Current," he said.

Marleau's family then spent the next several years shuttling the standout hockey player about 100 kilometres from their farm to Swift Current frequently so he could develop his craft against tougher competition.

"It was so cool for me to be going down this path," he said. "It did take a lot of sacrifices from my parents, brother, and sister... My dad and mom were there supporting me the whole way."

The forward posted staggering numbers as a 14-year-old with the Swift Current Bantam Rotary Raiders during the 1993-94 season scoring 72 goals, and 95 assists for 167 points in 53 games. Following the season, Marleau was taken sixth overall in the WHL Bantam Draft by the Seattle Thunderbirds.

He moved up to the Swift Current U18 AAA Legionnaires as a 15-year-old racking up 30 goals, 22 assists, and 52 points in 31 games.

Team Saskatchewan (Male Under-17) named Marleau its captain borrowing him from the Legionnaires in February of 1995 for about a week to go on a miraculous run capped off on Feb. 25 with a 3-1 victory over Alberta in the finals of the Canada Winter Games in Grand Prairie.

"I think what we had was a bunch of eager players that were excited to be on the team and wanted to do well," he said. "Everybody bought into the system that the coaches gave us. I think that was one of the biggest differences and allowed us to win."

One trait Rondeau remembered that stood out about Marleau beyond his skill, was his incredible memory for power play systems. Marleau chalked it up to being hungry for information and having the privilege of being coached at the Canada Winter Games by then Regina Pats assistant coach Ross Mahoney and now Washington Capitals scout Darrell Baumgartner.

"There I am, 15 years old, wide-eyed taking it all in and trying to make the best impression I can," he said. "I think that's where it (the amazing hockey systems memory) comes from. I didn't want to be the guy out there messing up a drill or going to the wrong spot."

Marleau cracked the WHL's Thunderbirds roster at 16 and produced impressive numbers for a rookie in the league registering 74 points in 72 games. He broke out in his draft season torching the league for 51 goals, 74 assists, and 125 points in 71 games. The 6-foot-2 power forward helped Seattle make it to the WHL finals that season before falling to the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

The speedy forward was named to the WHL's West First All-Star Team and the CHL's Second All-Star Team for his 1996-97 campaign.

On June 21, 1997, Marleau heard his name called with the second overall selection at the NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh, Pa. by the San Jose Sharks. Just like he did in the WHL, he broke into the NHL level at the youngest age possible cracking the Sharks team at 18, something he's extremely proud of when reflecting back.

The leap to professional hockey was seamless for the teenager who tallied 13 goals and 19 assists in 74 games during his rookie year. Three specific NHL memories come to mind for him early in his career. His first game in the NHL was on Oct. 1, 1997, against the Edmonton Oilers. His first fight with Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Doug Zmolek was on Oct. 4, 1999. And his first NHL hat trick against the Detroit Red Wings on April 4, 2002.

San Jose with Marleau aboard, made the playoffs in 1998, a feat he experienced 20 times, 17 of which with the Sharks over his 23-year NHL career.

"The most important time of year for me was playoff time," he said. "Going after the ultimate goal of the Stanley Cup. Those were some of my fondest memories because the competition level would ramp up so much more. Everything was team focused and everyone was pulling the same weight. Those are the times I really enjoyed."

The closest he came to hoisting the Cup was with the Sharks in 2016 when they fell in game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team he grew up cheering for thanks to Mario Lemieux.

The continued success season-by-season by Marleau and the Sharks in California helped grow the game in a non-traditional hockey market. These effects can now be seen with two superstars in the league from the warm west-coast state: Thatcher Demko, and Jason Robertson.

"To see the fanbase grow as we did that (was exciting)," he said. "To have my kids part of the San Jose Jr Sharks program, you could see how that game has expanded in the Bay Area."

Team Canada came calling several times throughout his career beginning with the 1999 IIHF World Championship, a tournament Marleau played in four times and won gold in 2003 and 2004. His crowning achievements came with the national team in 2010 and 2014 suiting up for a star-studded Canadian squad that captured back-to-back Olympic gold medals in Vancouver and Sochi.

"It was like a dream come true being able to get on the ice with all the best players from Canada," he said. "To be able to wear the gold medal around your neck twice and sing your anthem at the end of the Olympics are memories I'll cherish for the rest of my life."

Marleau became the NHL's all-time iron man on April 19, 2021, when he broke Gordie Howe's 41-year-old record for the most regular season games played with 1,768. The centre/winger finished his career with San Jose a handful of games later pushing that record to 1,779.

"You can't do that without having a tremendous support staff," he said. "Whether it be family or friends cheering you on, medical staff helping you stay healthy, trainers, and coaches. Looking back now, so many things had to go right."

His goal as a kid was to make it to the NHL, and once he arrived, it was to stay as long as possible. Marleau, while retired since 2022, has still spent more of his life playing in the league than not.

"I tried to never be satisfied with my game and was always looking to get better and see what the new trends were so I could stay in the league and relevant," he said reflecting on his longevity.

The San Jose Sharks retired his iconic number 12 on Feb. 25, 2023, with the Seattle Thunderbirds following suit on Nov 3, 2023.

Marleau was inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in 2012 and the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame on Nov. 8, 2023. He'll be going into the Bay Area Sports Hall this May and the Ted Knight Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame in July.

That leaves one enshrinement left, the Hockey Hall of Fame, just blocks away from where he spent two years playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"That would be unbelievable if that happens and I'd relish it too because again I'd be able to thank all the people who supported me along the way," he said. "The more chances I have to thank people along the way, the more I find in my head and keep adding to the list. The list just keeps growing. It's cool to go through that (thought process) and look back on my career."

marleau_paintingMarleau's teammates presented him with a custom painting of himself and Gordie Howe on May 12, 2021. (Photo courtesy of the San Jose Sharks)