by Justin Skelnik || AHL On The Beat Archive
Ten years ago, when Steve Martins was playing in his first stint with the Chicago Wolves, he was one of the young guns in an International Hockey League rich with age. The 1998 Turner Cup champion squad had an average age of 29.25 when they skated their way to Chicago’s first championship season.
Now, Martins finds himself in a slightly different situation: the 35-year-old veteran is playing his 13th professional season in the young man’s American Hockey League, where the average age of the Wolves’ opening day roster was 25.
Martins, who has played in 732 regular-season games in four leagues, including 267 National Hockey League games, throughout his professional career, is the fifth-oldest player in the AHL behind Portland defenseman Eric Weinrich, 41, Manitoba forward Mike Keane, 40, Rockford goaltender Wade Flaherty, 40 and Manchester defenseman Jon Klemm, 38.
“The American Hockey League is definitely geared to developing younger players and I just happen to be a little bit older than most of those players,” said Martins. “I am really fortunate because I am doing something that I love to do and I wouldn’t be doing anything else if could. I think that is why I am still playing. I really enjoy it each and everyday and I hope I can do it for many more years to come.”
Martins’ play on the ice certainly does not belie his age. His 43 points a little more than halfway through the season share 13th in the league and are already more than he recorded all of last year, a season in which the number of veterans on the Wolves roster allowed for him to dress in only 48 games of the team’s games, none of which came in the postseason.
“It is a tough situation any time you’re not playing,” Martins said. “You play this game because you enjoy being out there and contributing to the team and helping the team succeed. Last year we had a situation where we had unbelievable veterans and an unbelievable team and it just so happened I was the one left out. That being said, I tried to make the most of the situation and I tried to be as positive as I could. It was tough but hopefully it is behind me.”
With the Wolves carrying seven veterans on the roster, someone is the odd-man out of the lineup again this year, but Martins is busy making himself hard to bench. The Gatineau, Que., native has set the pace for his younger teammates, notching 16 goals and 27 assists – second-best on the squad. He has been held out of the lineup only twice in 49 contests this year.
In addition to putting up numbers on the ice, Martins brings the wisdom of a seasoned pro to the dressing room. Much in hockey has changed since he was drafted out of Harvard University, fifth overall by the Hartford Whalers in the 1994 NHL Supplemental Draft. For starters, Hartford and the Supplemental Draft don’t even exist in today’s NHL.
He sees other changes, too.
“Definitely the speed,” the alternate captain said. “I would say the size, everyone is getting bigger but the smaller players can play more with the rule changes, which has changed the game completely and drastically. From that aspect there is a lot more skill than there was 10 years ago throughout the lineups. The goalies have gotten better but the league itself is faster and more skilled.”
Although Martins will turn 36 on Apr. 13, he has no timetable for when he will walk away from the game he loves. When the time does come to retire, don’t count on him becoming a coach or assuming a front office position.
“I don’t know if I would be able to stick around hockey and not be able to play it, so I am not even sure if I would want to stay in some aspect of the hockey world,” said Martins. “I enjoy working with kids and I have a degree in psychology, so maybe I would go back to school and get my masters in education or some type of counseling.”
It’s not something Martins is reading into too much these days. Right now, the only thing on his mind is the present.
“We have a great team this year,” Martins said. “Hopefully we can go a little further than we did last year, and hopefully I can contribute to that success.”