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Martin feeling confident about Olympics, season

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

When Penguins defenseman Paul Martin speaks to the media, he tends to be soft-spoken (sometimes he’s so quiet it can be difficult to hear him), calm and reserved.

However, when talking to reporters at the U.S. National Men’s Team Camp this past week in Arlington, Virginia about having another opportunity to represent Team USA in the Olympics, it was clear just how much Martin wants to make the 2014 team – and actually get to play this time.

Paul Martin in his Team USA headshot
(Getty Images)

At one point, he was asked about the possibility of pairing with Penguins teammate and D partner Brooks Orpik in Sochi and how much that comfort level could help.

“I try not to think about it too much, but I’m really excited about this opportunity and the chance to play, wherever it be,” Martin began. “On the right side, left side…”

Martin stopped himself there and shook his head. “I just want to play,” he admitted. “I just want to go.

Martin made the U.S. team for the 2010 Games in what would be his sixth and final season with New Jersey before signing with Pittsburgh, but was forced to miss those Olympics with a broken forearm sustained in a game against the Penguins on Oct. 24, 2009. He was struck by a Bill Guerin slapshot that “missed the net by six feet,” Martin joked wryly.

The most frustrating part of that situation? Martin’s original projected recovery time had him healing in time for the Olympics that February, as his injury happened in the first month of the season. But after a while, the doctor told him it wasn’t healing correctly and that he would have to see a specialist – which is when he started to worry.

During that appointment, it turned out he was right to worry as Martin was told he would be having surgery the next day.

“They had to put plates and pins in and at that point it was close to if I’d be able to or not,” he said. “And I still was optimistic, but then the door slowly shut as the weeks went by. I think it was a bummer the way that it was handled. At the time, I would have assumed I would have been back after with three months till the Olympics.”

While some of his friends and family still went to Vancouver, Martin did not. Instead, he watched from his native Minnesota as his American teammates advanced to the gold-medal game against rival Canada and forced overtime with 24.4 seconds left, but lost in heartbreaking fashion to win silver.

“It was tough,” Martin said of not playing. “As far as disappointment and frustration as far as an athlete goes, I think that has been my toughest thing to get over so far in my career. … I just think when you realize that opportunity is there and you get named but you can’t do it, it was a tough pill for me to swallow and I struggled with it for a while.”

But, like he said, he can only control so much. He can’t predict what will happen during the first few months of the regular season before the NHL breaks on Feb. 9 for Sochi – all he can do is “just give myself a chance if they call my name, to be as ready as I can.”

If he plays the way he did last season, he’ll be giving himself more than a chance.

Martin is coming off his strongest season yet with the Penguins. He was one of, if not the best and most consistent Penguins defenders through both the regular and postseasons. Martin just did everything – and we mean everything – well for Pittsburgh.

Martin played big minutes in all situations – even strength, power play and penalty kill – and his combination of skating and puck-moving abilities and defensive acumen complemented his teammates perfectly.

His accomplishments included …

• Being named team’s Defensive Player of the Year.
• Topped 20 points for the 8th time in his career and tied his personal career high with 6 goals despite being limited to only 34 games.
• Ranked 2nd on team in ice time per game (25:19) and shorthanded minutes (3:08).
• Had a strong second half of the season, recording 20 points (5G-15A) in his last 26 games played and was a plus or even in his final 13 games.
• Averaged 3:11 power-play minutes per game.
• Set playoff career highs in games played (15), goals (2), assists (9) and points (11).
• Placed 2nd on the team with 26:38 minutes per game in postseason. Was 2nd overall and 1st among team’s blueliners with 3:17 shorthanded minutes per game. Led team with 38 blocked shots in playoffs.

The summer before this, Martin’s confidence was at an all-time low as he was coming off a relatively subpar 2011-12 season. But he bounced back with an excellent 2012-13 season, and the way he played last year has his confidence back up about not only what he can do for the Penguins entering the 2013-14 campaign, but for possibly Team USA come February as well.

“I feel great,” said Martin, who also said he's fully recovered from the "significant" injury he played through during the postseason. “I had a good summer this summer so far, too. I played with a lot of these guys before growing up and I know the type of player I am and where I stack up against them. I’m very confident in my abilities and where I’m at. But that being said, anything can happen and I can only control how I prepare and how hard I work. Hopefully that’s enough.”

The chance to play in the Olympics only come once every four years. Back when Martin was a member of Team USA’s taxi squad for the 2006 Winter Games in Torino his sophomore season, he thought he’d make the team next time. Obviously that didn’t happen, and now at 32 years old and one of the oldest players invited to orientation camp, he realizes that window is closing.

“At that time in 2006, I’m just coming into the league, you obviously think you’re going to have that opportunity down the road and so missing it in Vancouver was tough,” Martin said. “Now I’m not getting any younger, so to take advantage of this one would be big.”

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