MINNEAPOLIS — Even after winning the Mr. Hockey award as a senior at Elk River in 2000, Paul Martin still had some work to do, convincing at least one of his college coaches that he was the real deal.
Minnesota Gophers head coach Bob Motzko was a U of M assistant coach under Don Lucia in the fall of 2001, when Martin was a sophomore on the team’s blue line. And early on, Motzko did not understand what the Martin hype was about.
“I’d just gotten here and the first week of practice in the locker room, we’re talking about Paul Martin, and I said ‘I don’t see it.’ Because he’s laid back and nonchalant,” Motzko said in 2018, after Martin announced his retirement following nearly 1,000 games in the NHL. “About three weeks later it was like ‘holy mackerel, was I blind’ because he was as good as I’ve seen around in college hockey. We couldn’t run forecheck drills because he would just break it out every time. You could throw five guys at him and he would break the puck out.”
Nearly two decades later, Motzko clearly sees something in the retired NHL rearguard that can benefit the Gophers program. Martin, 39, was announced as the Gophers’ newest volunteer assistant coach on Tuesday. He is expected to join the team on the ice after COVID-19 testing and clearance, which is commonplace as teams work to stay healthy amid the ongoing pandemic. Martin will also be working to finish his degree from the U of M while serving the team in a role that was formerly held by Stu Bickel, who is now head coach of the NAHL’s Minnesota Magicians.
“Guys like Paul Martin don’t come around very often, so the fact we are getting him for a second tour of duty is really exciting for our program,” Motzko said in announcing the hire. “Between his experience and accomplishments as a hockey player and his leadership and involvement with the Shine A Ligh7 Foundation, we know that Paul can help our current players develop in nearly every way imaginable.”
Martin played for Elk River High School and then won a pair of NCAA titles with the Gophers in 2002 and 2003. He went on to embark on a 14-season NHL career with the New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks. He skated in 870 regular season games and another 122 playoff games, advancing to the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals with the Sharks, where they fell to his former team, Pittsburgh.
In international hockey, Martin skated for Team USA in the 2001 World Junior Championships, the 2004 and 2008 World Cup and in the Olympics in 2014. Martin was named to the 2006 and 2010 Olympic teams as well, but did not play in the former, and missed the latter due to an injury. His charitable foundation, which was started in 2017, works to raise awareness and reduce the stigma for those affected by bullying, depression and mental health issues.
With three freshman and three sophomores on the Gophers’ defense roster, Motzko said it is a perfect time for a veteran presence like Martin to work with the team.
“I’ve been fortunate to be around Paul as the years have passed, I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with him,” Motzko said. “He’s just got a cool, cool demeanor about him that is going to really rub off on our players. With he and (assistant coach Garrett Raboin) putting their fingers on that young D core, there’s some magic there.”
Assuming a negative COVID test result, Motzko said he expects Martin on the ice with the team next week.