Paul Martin may have packed away the Class of 2000 letterman jacket and ditched the late-90s haircut, but the NHL defenseman still maintains the Minnesota Hockey role model status he first established as the cover boy of Minnesota Hockey Journal 14 years
The Elk River native grew up on the outdoor ice. Skating on the pond behind his parents’ house with neighbors and friends, Martin said he was outside more than in. Out on Handke Pit, it wasn’t uncommon to skate under the floodlights until Martin’s parents called him home.
“(On the pond) is where you learn a lot of your skill,” said Martin. “I think in practice you learn the basics like how to skate and the way you should play. But out on the outdoor rinks and ponds, being a rink rat is where you learn how to be crafty and make plays on your own without a coach or parent instructing you.
“You have to make sure you have extra gloves and an extra pair of socks, but I think that’s part of the fun.”
While hockey was his passion that turned into a career, Martin didn’t limit himself to just sticks and skates. He was all-state on the football field and a starter on the baseball diamond. Martin admits he even took a break from hockey for a season in seventh grade to join his friends on the basketball team. He played both basketball and hockey up until ninth grade when schedules made it impossible to juggle.
“I’m a big advocate for playing different sports,” he stated. “I played sports by season and I always enjoyed that. My dad’s No. 1 rule was whatever season sport I was playing, I wasn’t missing any of it for another sport. If I was playing football, I wouldn’t miss it for hockey or baseball.
“Playing those other sports helped me become a better athlete. Baseball, football, basketball, soccer or track, all those sports help round you out as a player. Nowadays everyone thinks you have to specialize at such a young age, which I don’t believe in. I think kids should be playing other sports — it really only helps them.”
Even in the offseason Martin continues to make time to remove himself from the rink. It’s a habit he says he just won’t shake.
Martin grew up a University of Minnesota Gophers fan. Living roughly 33 miles outside the shadow of Mariucci, when countless schools came knocking with scholarship offers, there was no competition.
“I think (the U of M) was my only visit,” Martin said. “It was easy to commit to them and being a lifelong fan with my family made it an easy sell for the Gophers.”
Donning the maroon and gold for three seasons, Martin was able to add two pieces of hardware to the Gophers’ trophy case.
“To be able to win a championship was tough, but to be able to win two, and one of them being at the Xcel (Energy Center) in our own backyard, I don’t think you can write up a script better than that,” said Martin. “We had a great group of guys and we stuck together on and off the ice. To this day our class is pretty close and I think that team closeness is what helped us win the way we did. It was all pretty special.”
Martin opted not to join the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., in order to continue with playing sports and make an appearance at the coveted Minnesota state high school hockey tournament. But he didn’t pass up an opportunity to join Team USA after that.
He joined USA Hockey in five international competitions including a World Junior Championship, three World Cups and two Olympics. After sitting out in the 2006 Olympics and withdrawing due to injury in 2010, for Martin, Sochi was everything he’d dreamed of.
“You grow up watching the Olympics and the other USA guys, the Chelioses, Modanos, Hulls and Brian Leetch,” Martin said. “Those are guys you grow up idolizing and then to be able to come into their skates is always something special for me and something I’ll never forget.”
Martin reached the 10-year mark of his NHL career last season. Despite his veteran status, he admits that each day he works to improve.
“I don’t take anything for granted and realize how fortunate we all are to be playing a game and how few can do it and enjoy it,” said Martin. “I just go out and continue to work hard every time just like I’ve always done.”
And he’ll never forget where that work ethic and enjoyment originated.
“The community-based hockey in Minnesota, there is nothing like it,” he said. “Just being a part of the State of Hockey and growing up, you realize how much pride everyone has in their local and college teams. Wanting to play for that team you grew up in helps you really enjoy the game and you end up having a lot of fun. I think that’s what’s really important and what really makes Minnesota hockey so special.”
MHJ: Any superstitions?
Paul Martin: I have more of a routine. I’m not very superstitious as far as what I eat or what time I do stuff. I’m pretty laid back. I just like to listen to some music before the game. It can be Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam or Phish — it’s really all over the place.
MHJ: If you could play an instrument, what would it be?
PM: I would play the electric guitar.
MHJ: Toughest opponent you’ve ever faced?
PM: I get to go against Sidney Crosby everyday and he’s definitely probably one of the better ones. When I was in New Jersey, my first year or two playing against Mario Lemieux was one of my highlights in my career. Just being able to be out there with him, he’s one of the players you idolize growing up.
MHJ: Favorite video game?
PM: In college we played a lot of Super Nintendo. We would play NHL ’94 and we made a huge Stanley Cup trophy out of cafeteria cups and bowls with saran wrap and all of that stuff. We always played that. I’m not a huge gamer, so I don’t know any of the new stuff but you can’t beat a classic.
MHJ: If you weren’t playing professional hockey, what would you be doing?
PM: I wouldn’t mind being a teacher. I’m not sure what kind, maybe a history teacher, and I’m not really sure what age. Just being able to work with kids, and then being able to coach would be something I’d enjoy. I’d rather coach younger to help them grow and teach the game. That’s something I would definitely consider in the future.