To his Kelowna Rockets’ coaches and teammates, it’s no secret how intensely Cole Martin detests being beaten in a one-on-one situation on the ice.
That aversion to being second best is a big reason the 20-year-old Texas native has evolved into one of the Western Hockey League’s most effective shut-down defencemen.
His numbers last season reinforced the fact, as Martin led the entire WHL with an eye-popping +61 rating.
“I’ve never liked getting beaten, even getting beaten in practise really stings,” said Martin, who added 15 pounds in the off-season. “I find the more your push yourself and strive for excellence, the better you can be at that part of the game.”
What Martin didn’t provide a lot of during his first three seasons with the Rockets was offense, as the 6-foot, 175-pound blue liner scored just three goals and added 55 assists in 210 games.
Now, as the most veteran member of the Rockets talented back end corps, the Rockets’ coaching staff expects Martin to ramp up his offensive game while continuing to provide his trademark air-tight, defensive style.
“You’re not going to beat (Cole) one-on-one, he takes a lot of pride in his defensive game,” said Rockets assistant coach Kris Mallette. “What we’ve seen so far this year is that he’s a lot more offensive-minded, not afraid to jump into the rush. Like most defensemen on our team, that’s something we’re going to encourage from Cole, while still playing his solid defensive game.”
In addition to stepping up his offensive play in 2014-15, Martin will, as an overage player, be expected to be a key component of the Rockets’ leadership group.
In his last season as a major junior player, it’s a role Martin clearly embraces.
“I need to be working everyday and try to be a leader,” said Martin. “As one of the older guys, sometimes the younger guys need a push. I remember when I was 17, I had older guys step into help me out…I definitely need to be doing that.”
“My time here has gone so fast, it’s been the best part of my life,” he added. “That’s what I try and tell the young guys, to enjoy it and take it day by day.”
With 109 victories, Martin was an integral part of the Rockets’ regular season success the last two years. Now, in his last hurrah in the WHL, the Texas native said he and his Kelowna teammates have some unfinished business to take care of.
“The last couple of seasons we had a premature exit in the playoffs, so I can’t wait to get going and build on that this year. Every since I got into the league, I’ve wanted that WHL championship. This is my last shot, so I want to go out with everything I’ve got.”
Rocket Shots…The Rockets will close out their exhibition schedule with two games this weekend. On Friday, Kelowna will visit the Vancouver Giants, followed by a home date with the Victoria Royals on Saturday, 7 p.m.…The Rockets have eight players away at NHL rookie camps this week. Most, if not all, are expected back next week in time for the team’s season opener…Kelowna opens the WHL regular season Saturday, Sept. 20 at home to the Kamloops Blazers.