Midway through the 2016-17 season, an opportunity emerged for netminding talent of the Colorado Avalanche to gain NHL experience. The Avs were facing goaltender injuries and looking for fresh faces to guard between the pipes. Cue in Colorado prospect Spencer Martin, goalie for the American Hockey League's San Antonio Rampage.
Martin was a then 21-year-old keeper with little premier professional experience. However, when he was asked to step up to the NHL, the goalie accepted the new role with poise and made a great impression during his first stint in the big leagues.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Canadian was recalled to the Avs for various games this past season to serve as both a starting goaltender and as a reliable backup to Calvin Pickard.
The following is a look back at Martin's first experiences in the NHL.
After winning a gold medal at the IIHF U18 World Championship, the Oakville, Ontario, native was selected 63rd overall in the 2013 NHL Draft by the Avalanche. Since then, Martin has been honing his skills as a goaltender in the Ontario Hockey League with the Mississauga Steelheads, ECHL with the Fort Wayne Komets and AHL with the Rampage.
Martin received his first NHL recall on Nov. 25, 2016, to serve as a backup for Pickard. At the time, Martin was tied for the AHL lead in wins (eight) and boasted a 2.21 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage.
He dressed for the contest against the Vancouver Canucks the next day but did not see ice time in his first match. The rookie was subsequently sent back to the Rampage, but he was recalled three more times and finally earned the chance to make his first NHL start on Jan. 21.
"Thinking about your first NHL game, you expect to have a ton of nerves, but so far I'm just really happy and really excited I get a chance to play in this league," Martin said before he appeared in his first contest with the Avalanche.
Video: Martin called up to NHL for first time
Getting A Start
Jan. 21 marked Martin's first NHL game as a starting goaltender and the rookie posted a .900 save percentage as he stopped 27 pucks in a 3-2 overtime loss at the San Jose Sharks.
"I thought Spencer Martin was great for us in goal. He looked calm, cool, collected the whole game," Colorado head coach Jared Bednar said afterward of the rookie's effort.
The NHL freshman followed that up with his second start (his first on home ice) on Jan. 23. He turned away 21 shots, but Colorado lost 5-2 in a rematch against the Sharks.
Video: COL@SJS: Martin reaches up and gloves Schlemko's shot
In Media Res
In late January, Avalanche starting goalie Semyon Varlamov was officially declared unable to play for the remainder of the season after hip surgery to repair his injured groin. Consequently, Martin received his third game start on Feb. 1 against the Los Angeles Kings.
Colorado lost the contest 5-0, but Martin still had a solid showing. The goaltender had a perfect second period, stopping 16-of-16 shots. In total, he denied 35 pucks that night.
The rookie was thrown into the middle of a tough campaign and had to quickly adjust to the fast-paced game style that comes with midseason play. Martin finished his three-game campaign with the Avalanche with a 4.36 goals-against average and a .865 save percentage.
The goaltender also made an impact off the ice, participating in a sled hockey clinic with the Warrior Avs and Little Avs.
Finishing In San Antonio
Martin provided great backup support to Pickard, but he was sent back to the AHL on Feb. 7 to continue to develop his skills and play on a regular basis. For a young goalie, experience and ice time are the keys to growth and Martin found both with the Rampage.
He finished his season in San Antonio with a 19-26-4 record, a 2.90 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage in 50 games. He ranked fifth among AHL rookies in wins and 11th in goals-against average.
As the 2017-18 season approaches, it will be exciting to see how Martin develops his game as he continues to gain experience in the professional leagues.