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Eager to return, Martin making progress

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Paul Martin
It was almost like having a new face in the practice locker room at AmeriHealth Pavilion.

Paul Martin, the Devils' top defenseman, spoke to the media Thursday and revealed that he's "pretty close" to returning to practicing with the team. Martin has missed 52 games since suffering a non-displaced left forearm fracture at Pittsburgh on Oct. 24.

"Originally I think the goal was to be back with the guys when they came back from the Olympic break, but that was just me, I think, wishful thinking," Martin said.

He indicated he's progressing ahead of schedule since undergoing surgery on the arm in late December. Though he has been skating on his own, Martin doesn't expect to travel for the Devils' three-game western swing beginning March 2 in San Jose, and has not begun shooting yet.

"I can tell it’s not ready to be taking slapshots yet; it’s not strong enough," he said.

The Devils' first home game after the break is still a possibility.

"I don’t know if it’s Wednesday (March 10 vs. the Rangers) for that first home game, but who knows?" he said. "You’d like to get some practices in, and at the end of the year, they don’t practice as much because they’re playing every other day. We’ll see what comes up."

Now in his sixth NHL season, Martin was the Devils' top scoring blueliner in the previous two campaigns. Besides contributing on the scoresheet, his return would lighten the load for the rest of the defense, which has had to share major minutes in his absence.

Martin admitted the lengthy recovery has been frustrating. After posting 33 points (5g-28a) in 73 games last season, he has been limited to two assists in nine appearances this year.

"It’s hard, but I’m trying to stay positive through this whole thing," he said. "But at the same time, you’re in a contract year, you’re able to play for your country in the Olympics, those are definitely things that are important. First and foremost, it’s to play here for the Devils. I always have been a Devil. I like it here and the guys here and I just want to play here."

The injury also reduced Martin to a spectator for this year's Winter Games. He was forced to withdraw from the Olympics after being named to Team USA's 23-man roster on Jan. 1, though he said he has received emails from U.S. GM Brian Burke wishing him well.

Martin was a member of the U.S. taxi squad at Torino in 2006.

"I kind of knew a while before that I wasn’t going to be able to participate," he said. "Being able to go to (Torino) and see everyone play, the next thing in mind would’ve been to go and play myself. And to see guys like Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner, the guys there that you play with – the U.S. team’s been playing great and having the success that they’ve had. You want them to do well. I want them to win a gold medal, and at the same time, I wish I was there."

Clarkson cheers on Canada
David Clarkson is crazy for Canada. The Toronto native said he did some serious cheering during Canada's 7-3 rout of the Russians on Wednesday.

"I had my Team Canada hat on, my Team Canada shirt on, and I was cheering," Clarkson said. "Standing on tables, a lot of fist pumps. I watched some of the game here, then I watched the end of the game at home."

Clarkson reinforced that Canada's connection to hockey runs deep.

"Being from Canada, we couldn’t be more proud," he said. "Hockey’s our life and to see them do well – all the Olympians I think. I love the Winter Olympics. I’ll go to my phone and check the medals every hour to see what’s new and what’s up, but it’s exciting when your country’s doing well."

Even considering Clarkson's rooting interest, the outcome came as a surprise. The Russians, led by Alex Ovechkin and featuring Devil Ilya Kovalchuk, were counted among the tournament's gold medal favorites. They fell behind 3-0 in the first period and never recovered.

"You look at Russia’s lineup and the guys on that team are a force to be reckoned with," Clarkson said. "Even Kovy when he gets the puck you saw flashes of how good he was. But I think Canada just played a great team game. If you notice, they cycled the puck a lot. It was like they just kept cycling in the Russian zone until they found an opening, and I think that was pretty cool to watch. It was a lot of hard work but they moved the puck low, and that’s where they won the game, by dominating down low."

Clarkson pointed out a possible conflict of interest should teammates Jamie Langenbrunner and Zach Parise of Team USA face Canada in Sunday's gold medal game. First, the U.S. will have to get past Finland on Friday, when Canada battles Slovakia in the other semifinal match.

"I’d like to see those guys do well up until the final game," Clarkson said. "I do hope they move on, but I also hope that Canada dominates. That’s just me. As a kid, I was born and raised that way, and that’s my country. As much as I wish them good luck, I hope Canada does great. If both teams make it, if that happens, I’ll definitely wear some of my Canada stuff to the rink to make some of these other guys mad."

Clarkson wasn't sure quite what to make of the Slovakian team, but he was reminded that they boast Boston's Zdeno Chara on their blueline. It was Chara's slapshot that cost Clarkson significant time this season with a fracture in his right leg.

"Hopefully Canada’s guys (lift one leg like a) flamingo and let the puck hit the goalie," he said.

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