The Okanagan is almost half a continent away from Texas, but not such a big stretch for Colten Martin.
The American-born defenceman has had plenty of practise adapting to unfamiliar surroundings, first leaving home to play hockey at the tender age of 13.
After stops in Michigan, Illinois, and Nebraska along the way, Martin has been quick to find his comfort zone in his rookie season with the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets.
“I’ve had to grow up pretty fast, leaving my family behind has been tough, but it’s helped me get accustomed to living in other places,” said Martin, 17, who grew up in Arlington, Texas. “(Kelowna) has been the easiest place so far. I feel closer to this team than any team I’ve been on. My billets are great and my coaches are great mentors for me. It’s been really good.”
The Rockets chose Martin in the third round, 53rd overall in the 2009 WHL bantam draft.
After playing last season in Nebraska with the U.S. Hockey League’s Lincoln Stars, Martin earned a spot on the Rockets opening night roster thanks to an impressive training camp with the WHL team.
Now, a quarter of the way into the 2011-12 WHL campaign, all aspects of Martin’s game are showing signs of improvement. And with a couple of key injuries to the team’s defensive corps, 165-pounder has been called upon to log considerably more ice time than most rookie rearguards.
“I find that he’s a great skater, he can recover quickly when he makes a mistake, and he’s getting better at using his stick,” said Rockets assistant coach Dan Lambert. “For a smaller guy, he sure comes out of battles with the puck a lot of the time.
“He’s played quality minutes for us, we’re all of a sudden using him on the penalty kill, and he’s using his quickness to get to pucks. He’s done very well.”
While Texas clearly isn’t renowned as a hotbed of hockey, Martin said sport’s image is growing in the Lone Star State.
The NHL’s Dallas Stars have given the game added exposure there, while a pair of Martin’s Texan-born friends were NHL draft picks this season.
Plymouth Whalers forward Stefan Noesen went 21st overall to Ottawa, while Seattle’s Colin Jacobs was a fourth-round selection of the Buffalo Sabres.
Not surprisingly, Martin would like to follow in their footsteps.
“For sure, I’m trying to get my game up to a level where someone will notice me,” said Martin, who is eligible for the 2012 draft. “I thought coming to Kelowna would be my best chance, now it’s up to me to show what I can do.”
Rocket Shots…The Rockets will host the Edmonton Oil Kings Friday. Face off at Prospera Place is 7:30 p.m.…Kelowna will visit the Vancouver Giants Saturday.