For Paul Martin the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia is likely his final chance to represent his country on the biggest stage of international competition.
Martin has come close to reaching that level in previous years. In the 2006 Games in Torino, Itlay Martin was chosen as an emergency backup for the team in case of injury. He made the 2010 team in Vancouver, Canada, but a broken forearm forced him to unfortunately miss the tournament.
At the age of 32 and with a strong crop of young American defensemen maturing, Martin looked at this as possibly his final chance.
“I’m not getting any younger. And the window of opportunity is so much smaller,” Martin told the Penguins official website. “I’m definitely grateful for this opportunity. The way the last year and a half has gone, I’m a lot more comfortable with where I’m at and ready to go.”
Team USA announced its 2014 team following the NHL Winter Classic. Martin’s jersey was one of those selected as part of the team.
“For this to actually happen it is that much more meaningful, especially with what’s happened in the past,” Martin said. “I was pumped it when I found out. It has a lot more meaning for me where I’m at in my career.”
Over the past two seasons Martin has been one of the Penguins’ best defensemen and seemed to be a lock to make the Olympic roster. However, a broken tibia that has kept him out of the Penguins’ last 17 games raised some doubts regarding his selection. Although those doubts were never in Martin’s mind.
“I definitely believe as far as the other defensemen that were up for it and where I’m at (health-wise) that I deserve to be there,” Martin said. “At the same time if you’re hurt there is always the question of if he can be ready by then.”
But there is good news on the injury front for Martin. He hopes to begin skating as early as this weekend and expects to be back in the Penguins’ lineup in late January.
“I’m definitely planning on playing a couple games by the end of January and beginning of February,” Martin said. “If I can get in eight or so games that would be great to knock some of the rust off and get back into it. Hopefully, I’ll be fresh getting over it.
“I still have a ways to go to get healthy and come back, but I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
Long before this season, Martin had began working toward the goal of winning a gold medal for Team USA. The first step was making the team.
“The way the (2006 and ’10 Games) happened and knowing the Olympics was around the corner, the work that I put in to make sure I gave myself a chance and get that opportunity, I’ve worked really hard the last couple of summers,” Martin said. “I knew this was coming and wanted to make sure whoever was picking the team knew that I was ready to go and playing well. That’s all I could control.”
Martin will be among familiar company in Sochi. Also representing the Penguins organization will be Team USA associate general manager Ray Shero, head coach Dan Bylsma, assistant coach Tony Granato, and Martin’s usual defensive partner Brooks Orpik.
“If they put me with Brooks, we’ve played together for the last year and a half, that would be nice to do,” Martin said. “My game is playing responsible and hard, play defense. That’s all I can really do.”