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Road to the Coliseum: Matt Martin

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
Time and again, a young and ambitious hockey player from Windsor, ON tried out for his local AAA team, the Windsor Jr. Spitfires. Time and again, he was cut. That kind of rejection is hard. But, Matt Martin never gave up hope.

His brother, seven years his elder, was a goaltender and encouraged the youngest Martin to practice his shot. But with the advice of his father, the now Islanders power forward realized if he wanted to make it to the big leagues he would have to start bringing a new aspect to his game, a new mentality to live by that would make him a fearless physical force on the ice.

“I’m known for my physicality and how hard I play out there,” Martin said. “My dad instilled that in me when I was 15-years-old, that I wouldn’t make it by just goal scoring. I had to use something else.”

Matt Martin #17 of the New York Islanders skates prior to the NHL game against the Florida Panthers on March 19, 2011 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. The Islanders defeated the Panthers 4-3 in a shoot out. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Martin added, “I began to change my thinking and went into every tryout and every game with the mindset that I was fearless and I would do whatever it takes to make the team.”

At 17, still undrafted by a junior team, Martin’s hopes of becoming an NHL forward seemed less realistic by the day. Still, he worked hard and wouldn’t let failure be an option. In the fall of 2006, he attended the Sarnia Sting’s Training Camp as a walk-on.

“I went in with the mindset that I had to hit everything in sight to make it because there was a lot of skill on that team,” Martin said. “They had just drafted (Steven) Stamkos so they obviously weren’t looking for any goal scoring. They already had that. I needed to bring something else to the table.”

The perseverance paid off for Martin, as the Sting saw it fit to place him on a line as Stamkos’ protector. He would be the go-between that would rock players in the corners and open up the ice so that his linemate could have space to score.

“I always thought that I would make it and my parents always told me I could make it, but it was never really a realistic goal until I got a little older and made the Sarnia Sting,” Martin said. “Once that happened, I got to play with some pretty good players, like Stamkos and (Sound Tigers defenseman Mark) Katic and all these guys that had bright futures in hockey.”

Martin added, “I also started looking at things a little differently and realized that my dream actually could come true if I stayed focused and worked hard in the gym and trained. Then I knew I actually had a chance.”

From his first season to his second, Martin played in 27 additional games and increased his scoring output by 32 points. He also nearly tripled his penalty minutes, due in large part to standing up for his teammates by dropping the gloves.

That increased output drew notice from scouts across the National Hockey League and that June, he was drafted by the Islanders in the fifth round.

“It was a dream come true,” Martin said on the night of the 2011 Entry Draft. “As a little kid, it’s something you dream about. I saw a stat that said under one percent of hockey players actually make it to the NHL. So when you think of it that way, it’s pretty amazing. It was a great feeling.”

In his third season (2008-09) with Sarnia, Martin improved even more. In five fewer games than the season prior, he surpassed his best numbers with 10 more goals and 17 more assists for an additional 27 points.

With more confidence and constant growth, Martin attended his second training camp on Long Island and made a lasting impression. His dream was coming true, Martin would turn pro at the start of the 2009-10 season, playing for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Islanders American Hockey League affiliate.

In 76 games, Martin put up 31 points (12 goals, 19 assists) and 113 penalty minutes, which was once again, enough for the Islanders to take notice. At the end of his first pro season, he was called up to make his NHL debut. He wasted no time, getting on the board with two helpers in his first game.

“I don’t think it really clicked in until the summer time when I watched the game over again,” Martin said. “It’s really all a blur. I was running on so much adrenaline. You get chills when you think about it. It was such a great accomplishment for me and my family. To have a couple of assists in the game was big.”

With more confidence than ever and with the taste of the NHL still fresh, Martin made it his mission to make the big club out of training camp last September.

“It was just awesome how the guys took me in right away, accepted me and made me feel really comfortable,” Martin said. “If they didn’t do that, I think things could have been really different and made me more nervous, but they were great.”

Luke Schenn #2 of the Toronto Maple Leafs gets pinned against the boards by Matt Martin #17 of the New York Islanders on March 8, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
He was on the right track, with the coaches and management watching him closely. But with just a few weeks left until opening night, Martin took a shot to the foot during the Islanders exhibition game versus the Calgary Flames.

Crushed, Martin learned his injury would keep him from obtaining his goal of making the team out of training camp.

“There are setbacks in life everyday, but you go on with the mindset that life is tough, but you’re tougher,” Martin said. “You just have to keep battling through and realize that things happen. You just have to continue on with your life.”

Martin spent the first seven games of the season playing for the Sound Tigers before he would receive the third NHL call-up of his career. This time, Martin remained with the big club.

“It was huge to have this season,” Martin said. “You go into the year and still don’t know what to expect. I had five games the year before, but you don’t really get a great feel for what the league is like. To get a whole season in and understand how much of a grind it is, you kind of realize how hard some of the older guys work and you pay attention to that.”

Looking to begin his second full season with the Islanders this October, Martin took a new stride in his role with the team. This past week at Islanders Mini-Camp, the power forward mentored the prospects who found themselves in the same position Martin was in last summer.

Today, Martin is continuing to train so that he can once again make an impact on the Isles roster – but this time, his sights are set on opening night.
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