After spending much of his summer relaxing, attending some baseball games and spending time with his family and friends, the Islanders forward made a trip back to Long Island – a trip he said feels like a vacation itself – to visit with the Islanders community before taking on his fourth Mini-Camp.
Martin began his visit with an autograph signing at the Islanders team store at Sunrise Mall on July 7. It was a special night for Martin, as more than 200 fans came out to show their support for the power forward. These community events with so many fans in attendance have an extra special feeling for Martin.
“It’s really important to me,” Martin said. “I’ve come a long way in my hockey career. To be honest with you, not a lot of people thought I would be here. When you see all of the support you have and all of the people that come out to see you, you realize you’ve reached your dream and you’re living it.”
The night also proved to be a success for Martin’s new player t-shirt, which was unveiled before the signing. He was thrilled to hear the shirt had sold out, but jokingly contributed it to his own wallet.
“I think they sold out because I bought half of them,” he laughed. “I got a bunch for my family and friends back home. But really, it’s definitely a cool thing to get your own t-shirt, and if people bought them, that’s even better.”
|Matt Martin smiles as he signs his autograph on a practice jersey for a fan at the Islanders Team Store at Sunrise Mall in Massapequa on Thursday, July 7, 2011. |
Martin stressed the importance of giving back to the community and Islanders fans who come out and support the team, even during the off-season.
“Some people get a little distanced from these events and don’t realize what things like this mean to (the fans),” Martin said. “It means a lot to me to see the fans and see people who support me every night.”
Martin continued his tour of the Long Island community with a visit to Lawrence Woodmere Academy Summer Day Camp in Woodmere on July 8. At the camp, some kids were lucky enough to play street hockey with Martin, a game that brought out their utmost excitement when the Isles forward scored a goal.
Despite temperatures soaring into the 90s, Martin stayed and signed hundreds of autographs for campers, whose ages ranged from two to 12-years-old. The children also enjoyed several games and inflatable events that were put together by the Islanders I.C.E. Tour.
Also one of the newest fan favorites, he made a final stop in the community at Islanders Iceworks in Syosset on July 11. Martin jumped on the ice with 14 campers to help the young skaters with their techniques and then played a scrimmage.
“We did work on some different passing drills and skills, but really, I just got to know them a little bit, hung out and skated with them, which was a lot of fun,” Martin said.
Martin remembered attending camps with his own childhood hero, Ed Jovanovksi, now a member of the Florida Panthers, and how much fun he had attending camps like the one at Iceworks.
“It really wasn’t that long ago that I was a little kid,” Martin said. “There is a team in my hometown called the Windsor Spitfires (of the Ontario Hockey League) that I always went to for these kinds of things. Jovanovski had a big impact on my life. He was so great to me when I was young, so I always wanted to follow in his footsteps and be a role model to some of these kids.”
The six to 12-year-old players were all thrilled to have one of their Islanders heroes on the ice with them. Making it to the NHL is something these young players dream about, so this camp with Martin only enhanced those dreams.
“The kids were really excited, and I remember how excited I was when I was their age,” he said. “They just like to have some fun. Their dream is to play in the NHL one day, so anything you can do to push them along that way and keep them involved in sports is a good thing.”
|Matt Martin poses with the kids at Iceworks Summer Camp in Syosset on Monday, July 11, 2011. |
Martin again discussed the importance of being a positive role model, both on and off the ice.
“There are a lot of bad things these kids could be doing otherwise, so you want to keep them in the right direction and on the right track,” Martin said. “You want to help out with that and let them know that their dreams are possibilities.”
Martin, who finished his first full NHL season in 2010-11, said he knows that having a positive influence and being told to keep following a dream is something you always want to strive for.
“I was never a high prospect, so for some of these kids maybe it’s not a reality for them right now or they don’t understand,” he said. “It’s important to let them know that if you work hard everyday and stay focused, if you really want to make it, you will.”
After hundreds of autographs, photos and skating with youngsters, Martin wrapped up his community tour. Now, this week he will continue his stay on Long Island to help mentor the prospects during his fourth Islanders Mini-Camp.
“I remember my first camp and I was really nervous,” Martin said. “I still was even during the second one, but last year, I got really comfortable. This year, I just want to come in and make these new draft picks and prospects feel comfortable.”
He continued, “You just want them to understand that’s it not really about making the team out of this camp. It’s really just getting to know the city and getting to know some of the players.”
Just as he had a fun time visiting in the community, he’s looking forward to having some fun this week and helping out the prospects anyway he can.
“You just have to enjoy it,” Martin said. “You build relationships and friendships with these guys and it’s a bond that you’ll have for the rest of your life. Plus, Long Island is great. We’re going to have some fun this week.”