It has been a season of firsts for Colorado Avalanche netminder Spencer Martin, and they'll keep coming on Saturday.
The 21-year-old keeper received his first call up on Friday, Nov. 25, as the Avalanche needed support for fellow tender Calvin Pickard while Semyon Varlamov was sidelined with a wrist injury. He didn't play in the match and was sent down on Nov. 27.
Martin would subsequently be recalled by the Avalanche three more times, but this latest instance will now be different than the rest.
Martin will make his National Hockey League debut on Saturday when the Avs take on the San Jose Sharks at 8:30 p.m. MT at SAP Center.
"To be honest, it's a little bit more relaxed than I would have expected," he said of his nerves ahead of the match. "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."
With Varlamov out through the All-Star break to nurse a lingering groin injury, Colorado head coach Jared Bednar admitted on Wednesday that Martin was expected to see some game action during his latest stint with the club.
Now a dream for the 6-foot-3, 210-pound goalie is becoming reality.
"I'd like to say it's just another hockey game, but obviously there's a lot more to it and a lot more pressure," Martin said on Saturday morning. "I enjoy that. Throughout my career. I've always had my best moments in those kinds of games. So I'm excited."
Martin last donned the burgundy and blue for a pair of prospect-laden games, against the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks, during the inaugural Rookie Showcase which ran Sept. 17-19. Martin recorded two wins en route to helping the Avalanche take the title at the event, turning aside 42 shots in all while allowing just two tallies.
Since then, he's been backstopping the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League. He's played 27 games with the Rampage this season and has a 15-9-2-0 record, a .915 save percentage and a 2.62 goals-against average during that time. Martin's rookie endeavor also earned him a spot in the AHL's All-Star Classic, which is set to take place Jan. 29-30 in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
"We're sticking to it," Martin said of playing in Texas. "We want to have a better record than we have right now, but I've gotten a lot of opportunities myself. So it's been a good year for me."
During his stops in Colorado, Martin has tried to soak up as much knowledge as he can, learning from those who have gone before and those who have any piece of advice to offer a fresh face at the top tier of the sport.
"Every time I've gotten called up, it's felt a little bit more normal to be up here," said Martin. "So that's been a really big help."
Now he has a chance to show what he can do while providing Pickard a chance to rest.
SAN JOSE REUNION
Saturday's matchup at the San Jose Sharks offers a bit of a homecoming for one member of the Colorado Avalanche.
Although the Long Beach native was technically "home" on Wednesday and Thursday when the team was in Anaheim, Matt Nieto's return to SAP Center in San Jose, California, means a little bit more to the 24-year-old forward.
Nieto was selected by the Sharks in the second round (47th overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and played three seasons with the club before Colorado claimed him off waivers on Jan. 5. This will be the first time he's faced his former organization.
"It's hard to tell right now. I think the day of the game all the emotions will be there," Nieto said of his feelings ahead of Saturday's match. "I think it will be fun though. I have a lot of really good friends on that team, obviously, that I've known for a few years and played with for a few years. So it should be fun. It's a fun building to play in, so it will be a good game."
Video: Matt Nieto on returning to California
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound left wing is fond of his time spent with San Jose, but that doesn't make his departure from the club any easier. After being scratched in 15 of his final 18 contests with the Sharks, including eight in a row, Nieto was placed on waivers with the purpose of being sent down to the team's AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda.
Instead, Colorado claimed Nieto and tossed him into a top-six forward role. Now he has a chance to prove San Jose made the wrong move.
"I think it's always that way. I think all hockey players are competitive guys," he said of the desire to show his ability. "I think I'll be going as hard as I can that game, sort of like every game but maybe with just a little more edge that game, for sure."
Nieto has played five games with the Avalanche since joining the club, recording one goal and one assist in that span. His first marker of the season came in Tuesday's 6-4 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks after captain Gabriel Landeskog made an acrobatic play to force a turnover before feeding Nieto.
"It was really nice to get that one. Great play by Gabe there," he said. "It's always nice to be able to chip in and help out offensively."
Although he started on the top line, Nieto seems to have found a home on Colorado's second trio, skating alongside center Matt Duchene and Landeskog on the far wing. Stable linemates, especially in those two, has helped as Nieto works on getting familiar with head coach Jared Bednar's structure.
"I think it's coming together nicely. Obviously, getting used to systems as time's going on here, building some chemistry with a couple guys," Nieto said. "Pretty good so far, just got to keep going and build off the start."
"I think he's doing real well, I think a couple things stand out for me, he plays with pace he's always moving his feet, skating. He is gritty for a little guy, goes to the hard areas," said head coach Jared Bednar on Wednesday. "I see him making plays with and without the puck on the offensive side of things and also the defensive side of things. So he's been a nice addition to the team, there's no question about it."