- Men's Hockey
Elk River's Paul Martin excited to be on U.S.A men's hockey team
By Kevin Oklobzija USA TODAY Sports
SOCHI, Russia — The long, tantalizing wait is over for Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Paul Martin. Finally, he gets to skate on Olympic ice.
In 2006, the Elk River, Minn., native was on the Team USA taxi squad. If there was an injury, he could draw into the lineup. No one got hurt. He never played.
In 2010, he was slotted into the top six on the Americans’ depth chart on defense, but a broken arm kept him from going to Vancouver. Tim Gleason took his place.
This time, in what at age 32 could be his last chance for Olympic glory, Martin will be at the Bolshoy Ice Dome rink Thursday for Team USA’s preliminary-round opener against Slovakia at 7:30. He’ll likely be partnered with Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild as the top shut-down pairing for the U.S. So even though he had been one of the NHL’s best American-born defensemen over the past four years, Martin is grateful that he’ll finally skate in the Olympics.
He had been well aware that nothing is guaranteed, nothing is a given.
As 2010 proved. Doctors needed to re-break his arm because the original injury did not heal properly. The second surgery prevented him from playing in Vancouver, where the U.S. won the silver medal.
“It’s tough when you have a shot and can’t go,” Martin said. “When it’s right in front of your eyes, it’s harder to see four years down the road. And a lot can happen in four years.”
Slovakia hasn’t won a medal in Olympic hockey but the team is sound. It’s game is based on defense, and Martin warned that the bigger European ice surface used in the Olympic tournament means “they have more room to make plays.”
At Vancouver, Slovakia defeated Russia 2-1 in a shootout in the preliminary round, ousted Sweden 4-3 in the quarterfinals but then lost the bronze medal game to Finland 5-3. While the Americans say they can’t look past Slovakia, they know Saturday’s U.S.-Russia game is the marquee matchup of the preliminary round.
For Martin, it means bragging rights are on the line with Penguins teammate Evgeni Malkin. “You don’t want to come back and not be able to brag about beating them,” he said.
Regardless of the opponent, the U.S. team will probably never be the favorite team for the crowd. Martin is well aware of it. “I can definitely see us not getting a lot of cheers,” Martin said. “It’s easier to boo the big nation.”
Kevin Oklobzija writes for the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle.