Martinez Making a Case for Staying

If Alec Martinez can play in the National Hockey League, then I could have. But he does, and I didn’t. Why is that? We’re the same size, or at least it seems so looking him in the eye. He’s listed at six feet, 205 pounds. I’m shy of that a couple of inches and 45 pounds, but I swear, there’s no way he’s that big.

Until he steps on the ice, as he has done five times for the LA Kings this year. Then, he grows into a giant, never more than against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night, when he scored a goal and added an assist while playing 16:30 on the blue line.

His entire NHL career is nine games, and until Saturday’s contest, he hadn’t had an assist, just a lone goal, scored against Montreal in a losing effort a couple of weeks ago.

It wasn’t just any assist.  It was the assist on the winning goal, by Anze Kopitar, in overtime. And Kopitar was quick to credit the defenseman with the play.

“It was a great pass [from Brown], right along the ice,” Kopitar said. “The key to that is our guy, I think it was Marty, driving to the net and really to take that D away, drag their D, and that’s where that seam opens up.”

“I was just in the D zone, and I saw Franzen on the weak side and obviously I knew he was a good player so they’d be trying to hit him, so the little pass across the seam, I was able to get a stick on it and deflect it,” said Martinez while describing his game-winner.

Wait right there. That’s Detroit’s stock-in-trade, and it’s seldeom that they’re beaten on the play. The goalie has to make a save, if anything. When the pass is broken up, all rhythms are shifted, and that’s just what happened.  Martinez got a poke on the puck, and it quickly turned up the ice, the Wings on their heels.

“Brownie made a great play, and I just drove the net trying to open up that pass, and uh, fortunately it went in,” Martinez said. “It was a great play by Kopi and Brownie.”

This happened because Martinez is fast, as he demonstrated numerous times during the game, and not just in what would end up being the closing seconds.

So now Martinez has three points in nine games. Let’s see, that’s about a 25-point average for a season. Maybe that’s part of the reason he’s getting the attention of his coach, Terry Murray.

After the game, Murray had this to say about the 23 year-old who has been with the Kings since they grabbed him in the fourth round in 2007 (95th overall).

“He played very well. Made the winning goal happen,” said the Kings coach. “Martinez is making himself a good player. He’s got nice skills, he shoots the puck very well, he’s got nice vision. He’s starting to really do a good job on the defending part of it, and you see the winning goal, the way he broke up the play and started it back out of the zone, and then drives right through the zone to the net, backing that defenseman up which opened everything up for Brownie to make the pass to Kopi. That was textbook how you draw it, and, uh, he’s getting a lot of recognition for his play, obviously.”

To date this year, Martinez has recorded a high of 22:03 of ice time, against Montreal in that game in which he scored his other goal. His low was actually in the Detroit game, in which he got three hits to go along with his one shot. He blocked one by the Wings, too.

But it was standing up at the blueline that he was most often noticed. Hard to imagine looking at him, but he handled the big bodies of the Red Wings every time he was on the ice, knocking over Franzen at one point as the latter was reaching for a puck.

Martinez has been with the club since getting called up from Manchester for the Montreal game, and it’s worth noting that even since he’s been away from New Hampshire, he has retained his position amongst the top scorers on that AHL squad, and not just amongst the defense. His point production in 20 games was 5-11-16, exactly the same, it is interesting to note, as that of forward Oscar Moller, though the latter’s points were through 17 games played. The top scorer on the Monarchs has just one more point than Martinez even now.

At the time of his recall, Martinez was first on the team in scoring, and second among all defensemen in the league. Last year, he played 55 games with the team, getting 30 points (7-23-30). He added three assists in the team’s playoff run.

To go back to the question we started with; Why didn’t I play in the NHL like Alec, since on the surface, we’re much the same?  Confidence. But will that keep Martinez with the big club?

“He’s a skilled guy; he can play on the power play, and certainly four-on-four because of his mobility, and skating, puck skills,” Murray said. “He can carry the puck with authority and make plays, so he’s going to make himself a pretty valuable player and grab the opportunity, which he seems to be doing on a pretty consistent basis now.”

The opportunity he’s getting is in part due to Willie Mitchell’s absence from the lineup due to injury. Against the Wings, Murray dressed seven defensemen, including Davis Drewiske, who got some offensive shifts, and Peter Harrold, known and noted by Murray as a consummate professional utility man. He plays on the wing sometimes, defense sometimes on a game-by-game basis. Against the Wings, he was on D, but he saw just nine minutes of ice time.

Will Martinez stay up?  Of course, he doesn’t know, and he’s taking the “I’ll do what the management wants” approach. “I’m just taking it one day at a time, trying to get better every day,” were his exact words.

The goal he scored against the Wings, which tied the game with just about seven minutes gone in the second period, was off a pass across from Harrold which Martinez wristed toward the net. It looked like it hit something in front, and there certainly was traffic, but he got the credit for the goal, so if it hit anything, it was a Wing.

“It feels good, always, to contribute,” Martinez said. “On the first one I just, part of my game is getting pucks to the net. You get the puck to the net, anything can happen, so I got a good bounce.”

It’s a mantra Murray has been preaching, though the team’s shot totals are still low. Against Detroit, they got 25. The Wings had 29. Chris Osgood was in net for the loss, his first game since late October.

In case Martinez doesn’t manage to stay with the Kings, he has left the door open, literally, in Manchester, having paid his roommates for rent before he left.

“I live in a house with a few of the guys down there,” he said. “I keep sending them rent checks, so I’m not dogging them on that. I actually left them a check, just trying to be a good teammate.”

Fans forget that when the lights go off, these guys, especially the younger ones, live lives that are not fixed, nor is there anyone there to help when things like money matters need to be tended to.  It’s a day-by-day existence.

The summation of how Martinez is doing and what he’s hoping for is simple: “I’ve just got to keep playing with confidence to keep it going,” he said.

That’s not going to be a problem if he keeps doing what he’s doing on the LA blueline.

The Kings now wait for Calgary, who come to town Thursday. In the meanwhile, their coach says they’ll be getting in some good practice and some sorely needed skating.

Kings Notes

Brayden Schenn has been sent back to Junior hockey after a prolonged decision-making period.

Former NHL standout and Wharton Business School graduate Mel Bridgman was in the press box Saturday night, for those of you who follow the Flyers and value their history.

Brian Kennedy’s book Living the Hockey Dream is exactly what your hockey friends want for Christmas—the inside story of the people who play the game.

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