By Tom Hawthorn - special to stlouisblues.com
Seth Martin, a legendary goaltender in his native Canada who started in goal in the first game in St. Louis Blues franchise history, has died. He was 81.
Martin won a world championship in 1961 and played for Canada in the 1964 Winter Olympics before turning professional after the NHL doubled in size before the 1967-68 season.
On Oct. 11, 1967, Martin was between the pipes when the Blues made their NHL debut before 11,339 fans at St. Louis Arena. The goalie stopped 30 of 32 shots, as the Blues tied the Minnesota North Stars, 2-2. Larry Keenan and Wayne Rivers scored for the Blues.
Martin was signed as a 34-year-old free agent. The Blues made veteran goalie Glenn Hall their first pick of the expansion draft, but Hall was sidelined by the effects of a preseason tetanus shot after suffering a hand injury. The other goalie taken by St. Louis in the draft, Don Caley, only played in a single NHL game.
Martin played in 30 games in the Blues' inaugural season, recording eight wins, 10 losses and seven ties. He had a goals-against average of 2.59. He also played in two playoff games, as the Blues eliminated the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games and the North Stars in seven games before being swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup finals. The Blues lost all four games to the Canadiens by one goal, including two in overtime.
Martin was born on May 4, 1933, in Rossland, a gold-rush town in the Monashee Mountains of British Columbia now known as a ski resort. He played junior hockey for the Lethbridge Native Sons in the neighboring province of Alberta before joining the Trail Smoke Eaters senior hockey team for the 1953-54 season.
The Smoke Eaters, who took their name from the city's lead and zinc smelter, were annual contenders for the Allan Cup, a trophy awarded to the top senior club in Canada.
In 1961, the Smoke Eaters were selected to represent Canada at the world championships in Switzerland. With Martin in goal, the amateurs from Canada defeated the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia to claim the gold medal. Martin was named the top goaltender of the tournament. Canada would not win another world championship for 33 years and with each passing year the Smoke Eaters became ever more celebrated in their home country.
Three years later, Father David Bauer, a Roman Catholic priest who put together a team of amateur student-athletes to represent Canada at the Olympics, invited Martin to join the national team. At 30, he was the oldest player on the team.
In the Olympic tournament at Innsbruck, Austria, Canada finished in a three-way tie with Czechoslovakia and Sweden behind the gold medal-winning Soviet Union. The Canadians thought they had won a medal on goal differential, only to be told officials had determined the team had finished in fourth place. Martin was named the top goaltender at the Olympics.
After a single season in St. Louis, Martin returned to Trail, where he worked as a firefighter for the smelter. He had 12 years invested in a pension plan and had been granted only a one-year leave of absence. The Blues replaced him with Jacques Plante.
Martin played for the Spokane Jets in neighboring Washington State, suiting up for his final game at age 40.
He owned a sporting goods store in his hometown and made goalie masks in his basement. Martin was one of the first goalies to wear a mask.
During the 1960s, Martin influenced a generation of European goaltenders, who marveled at his quick glove hand, his adept use of the goalie stick and his attacking style of play in which he would skate from his net to confront opponents.
When the Soviet Union came to Canada in 1972 to play the first of eight exhibition games, dubbed the Summit Series, a Soviet official asked sports writer Red Fisher about the new kid in Canada's nets. “Your goaltender Ken Dryden,” the official asked, “is he as good as Seth Martin?”
Martin was one of the original 30 inductees into the International ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame announced in 1997. He has also been inducted into the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame (1988) and the British Columbia Hockey Hall of Fame (1998). He has also been honored by having had his name added to the Home of Champions Monument in Trail.
Martin died on Saturday [Sept. 6] in Trail. He had collapsed a week earlier while on holiday in Idaho. He was diagnosed with cancer several years ago.