Tom Martin was one of those players who seemed to bounce between the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League on an annual basis throughout the 1980s. He was good enough to be in the NHL but his career stats were pretty much non-descript. He played in 92 games for Winnipeg, Minnesota and Hartford between 1984 and 1990, scored 12 goals and assisted on 11 others. Martin was also a tough guy who rang up 249 penalty minutes in his NHL days, but many others could make that claim as well. But Martin holds one distinction that no one in the NHL, and maybe the entire sports world, could claim about his playing days.
Martin, who was a fourth-round draft pick by the Winnipeg Jets in 1982, was traded for a bus -- a used bus. That puts Martin in the same category as one-time major-league pitcher Keith Comstock, who was traded for a box of used baseballs as a minor-leaguer, independent league baseball player John Odom
, who in May 2008 was traded by the Calgary Vipers of the Golden Baseball League to the Laredo Broncos of the United League for 10 bats, and Fred Roberts, who was traded by the NBA's Utah Jazz to Boston in 1986 in exchange for two preseason games in which Boston would play Utah.
On January 19, 1983, the Western Hockey League's Seattle Breakers dealt Martin to Victoria for a used bus and future considerations. Martin never played for the Breakers and decided to give the University of Denver a try instead. The left wing had played for the Kelowna Buckaroos of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League in 1980-81 and 1981-82 and ended up on the Breakers' reserve list. Martin decided he wanted to play hockey and get a college education at the same time so it was unlikely he would ever perform for Seattle. Breakers management was looking for a deal to get something of value for an asset it would never use.
Seattle was also looking for a team bus, and Victoria had an extra one. The Cougars management bought the vehicle after the WHL's Spokane Flyers suspended operations after 26 games in the 1981-82 season, but the Cougars could not use the bus that was sitting in Spokane because team management did not want to pay the taxes and duties to register the vehicle in Canada.
Each side got something they needed for unusable parts. Martin, a Victoria native, would play in Victoria in 1983-84, and Seattle got new wheels. Seattle needed the bus after its bus blew its engine on a trip to Kelowna.
"I was at the library that night, it was in the middle of the week and the season was going pretty good there in Denver," Martin said. "But I wanted to go back and play junior the next year. The team that had my rights, Seattle, they could not offer me any education. So I asked to be traded.
"You know Kevin (Dineen) was there, he was with me, we didn't think that much of it at first," Martin said. "You know, I went to bed that night but the next morning, the phone started going crazy and it ended up being a bigger thing than I thought and I got a lot of media at the time, phone calls from all the papers around the county and a few TV things. It was a pretty funny thing, I guess."
Martin, with his tongue firmly implanted in his cheek, took some exception to the characterization that he was traded for a "used" bus. But the bus did have some mileage on it.
"Well, it was used, but it was a fairly recently used. It was a fairly new bus," said Martin.
"I know it had bunks on it and it was definitely a team oriented bus. In the Western Hockey League they travel a lot and they need a good bus. Maybe it had better wheels than I did."
Martin left the University of Denver and played for the Victoria Cougars in 1983-84, but never laid eyes on the bus even though Victoria did play Seattle that season. Martin really wanted to eyeball the vehicle, but there was a problem. Seattle didn't have the bus when the Breakers played the Cougars in Victoria.
"I know it had bunks on it and it was definitely a team oriented bus. In the Western Hockey League they travel a lot and they need a good bus. Maybe it had better wheels than I did." -- Tom Martin
"I never saw the bus," said Martin. "I saw a picture of it. I got a picture sent to me once, they painted it all up and put Seattle Breakers on the side. Hopefully, it was a real nice bus. I didn't even see the bus that year because they (the Breakers) lost it. They had a kid from Europe on their team and he didn't have a visa and they tried to cross the border and they ended up confiscating the bus for six months that season."
Martin turned pro with the American Hockey League's Sherbrooke Jets at the end of the 1983-84 season and started his pro career thinking he left his tale of being traded for a bus behind. But he found out, quickly, that everyone knew the story. Martin picked up a nickname that stayed with him throughout his professional hockey career.
"I guess that's my handle," Martin said with a laugh. "That sticks with me with every team I go to and I everywhere I've been, I have been Bussey."
Martin ended his career with the AHL's New Haven Nighthawks in 1991. Martin is the only player in Western Hockey League history ever to be traded for a bus and that overshadows his accomplishments as a player, which included being named a first team AHL All-Star in 1988.