Even from those first raw and uncertain days of his career with the Kelowna Rockets, Cole Martin exhibited an acute talent for defending his territory.
Then-assistant coach Dan Lambert remembers a young, 17-year-old Texan taking to the ice against Medicine Hat one night four seasons ago and not giving away an inch to Tigers’ star Emerson Etem.
“One thing we noticed early is that Cole was a great defender,” said Lambert, the Rockets head coach. “Medicine Hat had Etem, he had 60 goals that year and he had just blown by a defenceman.
“We challenged Cole that night, matched him up against Etem and he didn’t get around him at any time…not once. We’ve used him that way ever since and he’s been a very effective player for us.”
And other than becoming more polished and experienced over the years, not much has changed
in Martin’s approach as the 21-year-old from Arlington, TX winds down his major junior career.
Martin’s penchant for defending and his distaste for being beaten one-on-one is borne out in the numbers.
For three consecutive seasons, the 5-foot-11, 175-pound rearguard has led his club in plus-minus, racking up a combined rating of +152, including a team record +61 in 2013-14.
“It’s pretty cool, I’ve had a pretty good run but that’s not something you can do on your own,” said Martin, the active leader in games played for the Rockets with 316. “I had (Jordon) Cooke and (Damon) Severson helping me out, then this year (Jackson) Whistle and my defensive partners have been great. It’s a joint effort and I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of great players to play with.”
Still, even though the team always comes first, Lambert said Martin deserves every bit of individual recognition that comes his way.
“The most amazing thing about that stat (plus-minus) is that those numbers are usually put up by guys who have big offensive stats, too,” said Lambert. “He’s never really been a points guy and he plays a lot against the other team’s top players, so that’s what stands out.
“Cole has a high compete level, he uses his stick well, his ability to turn is as good as you’ll see,” Lambert added. “He’s a great team guy, too, we’re really going to miss his compete and his attitude.”
For Martin, who arrived from Texas four years ago knowing no one in Kelowna, his time in a Rockets’ uniform has gone far too quickly.
“It’s been a pretty emotional year, it’s been tough and it’s really been a blast all at the same time,” said Martin. “When you get here, the older guys tell you to enjoy it while you can and you don’t really see that coming until you’re 19 or 20. It’s crazy how fast it goes, so I’m just taking it all in the best I can.”
So with six weeks or less remaining in his WHL career, it’s no surprise how the affable Texas would prefer to sign off his days in Rockets colours.
“I’ve said from the beginning of the year this is a special team and we really have a chance to do some great things,” he said. “Not everything is going to go smoothly, the guys know that but we’re confident we have the team.
“I can’t lie, I’d be disappointed if we didn’t win the WHL title,” he added, “but I would never any regrets coming here, the lifelong friends, a great four-year career. I’ve enjoyed all of it.”
Martin and the Rockets journey continues tonight ads they take on the Royals in Victoria in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinal.
Kelowna leads the best-of-seven series 2-0.
Gatenby hardest worker…
Kelowna Rockets’ defenceman Joe Gatenby has been named the 2015 WHL Ryobi Hardest Working Player of the Year.
Gatenby, 17, who was chosen as his club’s hardest working player, won the award after a league-wide fan poll.
The Hardest Working Player of the Year is designed to honour the player who best exemplifies dependability, quality of play and commitment to his team throughout the regular season.
Gatenby had two goals, 15 points and a +26 rating in 65 games in 2014-15.
A pair of game-winning goals was enough to earn Tyson Baillie the WHL player of the week award.
The Rockets’ centre tallied three goals and added an assist as Kelowna defeated Victoria over the weekend in the first two games of the WHL’s Western Conference semifinal.
On Friday, the Fort Saskatchewan, AB native had a goal and an assist including the game winner in a 5-0 win over the Royals.
On Saturday, Baillie scored twice, including the decisive goal at 58 seconds of overtime in a 4-3 Rockets victory.