The third time was a charm for Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Paul Martin.
Martin finally competed as a member of the U.S. men’s ice hockey team earlier this year during the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. The 33-year-old Martin was named to his third straight U.S. Olympic Team, but played for the first time after he didn’t see any action during the 2006 Games in Torino, Italy, and suffered a broken arm that forced him to miss the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
“I think, for me, after not being able to play in Torino and to be injured in Vancouver, it was a big honor for me to be able to play a couple games,” Martin said. “I had a lot of family and friends come over, and just to wear the red, white and blue and to play was a good experience for me.”
The gravity of the moment hit Martin, a native of Elk River, Minn., during the national anthem in the team’s first game against Slovakia.
“Being on the blue line and hearing your country’s anthem with all my family and friends there… it was a moment that was building for a long time,” Martin said. “It gets pretty emotional just being there.”
The emotion continued to build and carried into the next game versus Russia, a historic preliminary-round thriller against the host team.
“It was huge in their homeland, and for us, there is a lot of pride at stake, obviously with these two countries being good hockey countries going back to the 1980s,” Martin said. “I think there’s a lot of history there too, and for us it was a big statement game.”
The Olympic run ended prematurely for Martin, who broke his hand during the Americans’ quarterfinal-round game against the Czech Republic. Martin, who missed 23 games earlier in the season with a broken leg, underwent surgery and returned before the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Martin’s injury was one of a few in Sochi that reignited the debate as to whether National Hockey League players should participate in the Olympic Winter Games, but Martin said he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I think you should play,” Martin said. “I was hurt [in the Olympics], but I wouldn’t give that up for anything. Any person would be honored to represent their country, and I’m all for it. Sometimes timing isn’t great with injuries, and to be out, I didn’t know what was going to happen, but it all worked out in the end.”
This season, Martin continues to serve as a top shutdown defenseman under new coach Mike Johnston as Pittsburgh is again a force in the Metropolitan Division a quarter way through the season.
“I think we have a great team,” Martin said. “A couple adjustments with the new coaches I think have really benefited a lot of guys in here. It’s going well, we’re putting up some wins and hopefully we keep building on that.”
Martin started the season primarily paired with free agent acquisition Christian Ehrhoff before moving to work with Kris Letang after Olli Maatta left the lineup for two weeks to have a cancerous tumor removed from his thyroid gland.
“I think it’s a system that allows us to get up the ice, join the rush and contribute more offensively,” Martin said. “There’s a little more confidence in us being able to possess the puck and move it up the ice.”
Martin, who remains a key, stabilizing piece to the Penguins’ defense corps, is in the final year of a five-year, $25 million contract signed as a free agent in 2010. Martin has been the subject of trade talk with the Penguins seeking additional help at forward, but he isn’t worried about it.
“I don’t even pay attention to it,” Martin said. “I don’t want it to be a distraction, so my focus is here, playing hockey, and I’m sure everything else will take care of itself.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.