It happens every season. There are a few guys that begin the season with the Islanders’ AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, and get called up for the first time to the NHL, better know by most players as…The Show. This summer, we will check in with those select players that got their first tastes of the NHL, find out what the experience was like and what they’ve been up to this summer to hopefully make the big club next season.
In our first installment, we speak to one of the most up and coming power forwards in the Islanders’ organization, Matt Martin
. The 6’2, 195 pound winger scored 12 goals and 19 assists for 31 points in 76 games in the AHL this past season. He also tallied a goal and two assists in five Calder Cup Playoff games, the most among any Sound Tiger forwards.
Martin got his call on February 7 of this past season. He played in a total of five games and recorded two assists, all coming in his first NHL game on Monday, February 9 against the Nashville Predators. Talk us through from the moment you got the call to go to Long Island to the moment you stepped onto the ice.
It was extremely exciting. The night before we played Manchester at home and I broke a 14-game goalless drought so that was nice to get that monkey off my back. The following Sunday night we were getting ready for the rookie/Super Bowl party. Before I left, I received a phone call from Cappy (Sound Tigers’ head coach Jack Capuano) telling me that I couldn’t go to the party. I was confused but when he said the reasoning was because I was going up to the Islanders, I was ecstatic. He told me that they needed some toughness up top and that was something I was ready to bring to the lineup. We (Jesse Joensuu
was called up at the same time) left in the morning and went straight to the Coliseum for practice. We practiced in the morning to prepare for the game against Nashville the next night. I talked with Coach Gordon and he tried to settle my nerves and explain to me that I need to enjoy this and no one can take it away. Doug Weight made me lead the stretches at the practice so he made it easy for me to fit in. I couldn’t wait for the game. After staying at the Marriott, I woke up in the morning and walked over for the morning skate where the butterflies were definitely growing. I’d worked so hard to accomplish this dream of making it and to know I made it was remarkable. I managed to get through the morning skate without any drill mess-ups so I was happy about that. After that, took a pregame nap and came back to the rink for the game. Any player (s) from Bridgeport that had experienced the NHL and tried to give you advice? When you got to the NHL, any players stand out in your mind that took you under their wing?
I drove down to Long Island with Jesse (Joensuu) and he told me to enjoy it and that no one could take away the experiences I was about to have over the next two or three days. He told me to have fun with it…enjoy it. I only have a first NHL game once so keep it simple, bang bodies and know that you belong because they wouldn’t have called you up otherwise.
When we arrived all of the staff and players greeted me. That night Okie (Kyle Okposo
), Bails (Josh Bailey
) and Tamby (Jeff Tambellini) took Jesse and myself out for dinner. After seeing all the steaks and sides on the table I was nervous for the bill but fortunately, Kyle picked it up. They stressed to me to do what I did in Training Camp that made me successful.
The one thing I remember from the game was Richard Park and Doug Weight telling me not to be afraid to make mistakes because they were there to cover them up. Hitting the ice for warm-ups. What were your emotions?
It was really unbelievable. I felt the fans around the boards, banging on the glass and cheering. I got my looks out during warm-ups, as far as being in amazement of the talent on the ice such as Jason Arnott, Jordan Tootoo and on the Islander side, Weight and Okposo. What was your “Welcome to the NHL moment?”
It has to be the assist I had on Bruno’s goal late in the Nashville game to tie the score. To hear the announcer say, “Goal scored by Bruno Gervais, assisted by Matt Martin
,” and have the crowd go wild was incredible. I had accomplished the first step of my dream of playing in the NHL.
You recorded two assists in that victory over Nashville and were named the third star. What was it like skating back onto the ice for that ovation?
It was crazy. From the exhibition games, I knew the crowd liked the way I played. When they get going I feed off of them. When we got back into the dressing room after the game, Doug Weight gave me the hard hat. It was incredible and overwhelming all at the same time. To be able to contribute towards pulling off a win was huge for me to be a part of. Explain to us the difference between traveling in the AHL and traveling in the NHL.
The big difference is that in the AHL you’re on a bus and in the NHL you’re traveling in a plane. The travel is much easier in the NHL because you’re not on a bus for a four in five nights set. Meals are a lot different as well. The meals on the planes are prepared for you when you walk on. Most of the time you can order a steak, lobster or some kind of pasta dish. In the AHL, they have a menu from a local restaurant that you order from and the food is waiting on the bus after the game. The last difference is the accommodations. Instead of staying in the Binghamton Regency or the Holiday Inn in Portland, we’re staying at the Four Seasons or the Renaissance. The hotels are big and fancy and most of the time there are a number of autograph seekers waiting for you to arrive.
You got in your first fight against Tyler Kennedy in Pittsburgh. The shift before your were looking to entice Mike Rupp. Take us through those shifts all the way up to when you were sitting in the penalty box after the Kennedy fight.
The whole Rupp thing grew from the game before when Andy Sutton hit Pascal Dupuis. Rupp went after Sutton right away and challenged him and I knew of the history so I thought I would stand in for Suts. He was a major asset for our team on the ice so we didn’t need him taking the fighting major for five minutes so I thought that would be a good time to step in and stand up for a teammate. The one thing I want to stress is that he is not someone who needs it but like I said, he was more of an asset for us on the ice. Rupp had nothing to prove or gain by fighting me so he turned me down. My next shift, I took a run at Tyler Kennedy and he challenged me and we went. I do not remember much of the fight. In the box it was nice to sit there and know that my first one was out of the way.
The next night I fought Nate Thompson who was recently claimed by Tampa Bay. It’s funny because he was the first player to take me out for dinner and let me pick his brain for the experiences he’s had. I will never forget him yelling over at me in the box and gave me a head nod. He is a stand up guy who gave me a chance to show the Islander fans what I hope to bring to the organization and for that I’m forever grateful. Although it may have been shorter than you hoped, but what was the experience like playing in the AHL Playoffs?
It was crazy playing playoff hockey in an emotional building like Hershey in front of 10,000 fans each night. Unfortunately for us, we’d be rolling one night and then they’d score and we’d be back on your heels. The biggest thing I learned from pro playoffs is having the capability to balance your emotions. We were right in that series in Games 1 and 2, where we could have left with a 2-0 lead. We had a fallout in the third game and the fourth we won and they beat us in the fifth. It is tough at times because when one of your teammates gets drilled, I want to go out and return the favor but in the playoffs, you really have to pick your spots so that you don’t penalize your team and set them back even more.
At rookie camp last season, you seemed to become close with John Tavares. Obviously you knew each other from playing against one another in the OHL, but how did your relationship grow over the course of the year?
We were really close in Training Camp. We knew one another from playing in the OHL and have connection through Steve Stamkos, who John knows pretty well. We talked occasionally during the year. When I came up he invited me to dinner at his house. I was placed on a line with him in the first few games and that was a fun experience.
He is a gifted player who sees ice really well. If I am on his line with him my role is to bang bodies, get him the puck and go to the net. That will let him do the special things that he can. I’ll go to the net and stand in front and cause havoc. What is your off-season plans as far as staying away from the ice?
I spent some time right at the end of the season with my former teammates from Sarnia. We were together for about five days and that meant a lot because I grew into a man there and it was good to see them. Other than that, I’m hanging out with family and friends because it’s tough to see them during the year. When do you get back on the ice and in the gym to start preparing for the upcoming season?
I actually started working out this week. I was in the gym last week trying to re-acclimate myself and my first serious workout was today. I will start now with my program every Monday – Friday, I’m in the gym and yoga on Saturday. I will start skating twice a week, which is the one thing I am really concentrating on improving for next season. What are your goals coming into Training Camp and how do you see yourself fitting in with the Islanders whether its this season or in an upcoming one?
My goal is to make the Islanders. Same as last season. I can’t shoot for anything less. I want to make an impact everyday. If I can show that I worked in the offseason to get bigger, strong faster I think it can only lead to better things. I want to continue pursuing my goal not only of playing in the NHL but now becoming a consistent player and become a fan favorite in the eyes of all Islander fans.