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New York Islanders' Matt Martin talks to Long Island kids

He discusses growing up in a hockey family, rooting for the Colorado Avalanche, and what it's like to have Ranger fan Boomer Esiason as his future father-in-law.

New York Islanders left wing Matt Martin with

New York Islanders left wing Matt Martin with Kidsday reporters Liz Madden, left, Kaitlyn O'Brien, Gavin Boyd and Keith Dempster of Bayville Intermediate School at the team's practice facility in East Meadow. Credit: Newsday/Pat Mullooly

One of the Islanders' greatest victories is having a player like Matt Martin on their team. Matt was traded to Toronto in 2016 and came back to the Islanders this season, and he plays left wing. Did you know that Matt is about to marry into another famous sports family? He is going to marry former Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason's daughter, Sydney, this summer. 

At what age did you start playing hockey?

I started playing organized hockey at 3. I started skating when I was 2. I’m Canadian, so we get into hockey pretty early. Play on the lakes and whatnot, when it’s frozen. My dad used to make a little skating rink in our backyard for us to play on. I have an older brother who started skating as well as playing hockey. So always had fun, grew up with the game and have been playing ever since.

What was it like growing up in Windsor, Canada?

It was nice. I still go home when I can. And it helps to live here but go home to see my family on holidays. Any time I play in Detroit I cross the border. It’s a special place for me, and all my family is still there, so I go see them. It makes me happy. I’ve got some nieces and nephews now. They’re a little younger than you guys. They’re all just starting to play hockey now, too. They like watching me and all that stuff. It’s always good to be home and spend time with your family. I think family is the most important thing. And when you’re going through tough times and things aren’t going well, whenever you can see your family it puts things into perspective for you.

What is your favorite part of the game?

Scoring is pretty nice. But I think it’s just the relationships that you make, friendships. Just like you guys at school, when you play different sports or recess, and kids that sit next to you in class. You build a lot of relationships over the years. I played for two teams. I played here in New York and in Toronto. And when I left to go to Toronto, there are still guys here that I spent a lot of time with and talked to all the time. There’s guys in Toronto I still talk to all the time. Even away from the rink. There’s a few guys on the Toronto team and a few guys on this team that are standing in my wedding. So just really special relationships that you get through this game. It teaches you a lot about life, too, I think. I think he mentioned getting cut and failure is part of life, right. Disappointment helps you grow as a person, and not only do you have your family but you have your teammates and your friends that help you get through things. It’s pretty family-like, a hockey team. You spend a lot of time together and go through a lot of things together.

Who took you to your hockey games when you were younger?

A little bit of a mix, actually. My mom and dad both did it. My dad worked midnights when I was growing up, so he would always work all night and get a little bit of sleep. As I said, there’s my brother and my sister as well that played hockey, so sometimes my dad would bring my brother or sister to their games. Sometimes my mom would. They would have to split up a little bit. But one of them was always there. Often both of them would be there. I don’t know how they did it, to be honest with you, especially with my dad working midnights. It never seemed like he slept at all. He’s retired now and no one’s really home, so he sleeps a lot more now. But I was pretty fortunate to have a really supportive family and people who wanted me to be successful, and they’re a big reason as to why I’m here today. Without them, who knows what I’d be doing? So between my mom and dad, and even my brother and sister, they’re support. They weren’t driving me to games, but they were very influential with me. Like I said, if they could be there, they would be there. And always watching, always supporting. Whenever I wasn’t working hard, they would make sure the next time I would. They were a big reason as to why I made it where I am today.

How long did it take you to get on a new team after you got cut?

So it kind of works out where when you get cut from a team, or don’t make a team, all the players that tried out for the Triple A team go down to the A team and try out for that. I didn’t, I always played for the same team. I had the same coaches for a long time. And so I guess I didn’t really have to try out for the A team as much because I was with that team pretty well my whole time playing out. So, yeah, you try out, if you don’t make it, everyone goes to the A level and tries out there. Play for that team.

What was your favorite team growing up and who is your favorite player?

All right, that’s a good question. So do you know where Detroit is? It’s right across the border from Windsor. So the river is probably as wide as like this whole building. So it’s a very small separation between Canada and Detroit. So my family were Red Wing fans. And then my mom’s side of her family were Maple Leaf fans because they were a Canadian team. So my hometown is divided that way. So for the most part I grew up a Red Wing fan. But my favorite player is Joe Sakic and my favorite goalie was Patrick Roy. And the Colorado Avalanche came into the league and both those players went to the Colorado Avalanche, so I became a Colorado Avalanche fan. And in the late ‘90s, as some people will remember, the Red Wings and the Avalanche had a big rivalry where they were always playing in the playoffs. They were always competing for the Stanley Cup. So my whole family would root for the Red Wings and I would be sitting there in my Colorado Avalanche suit rooting for the Avalanche and cause a little bit of a feud in my family. So we were able to come out on top with a few wins. And then Detroit was always a good team, too, but I spent most of my childhood a Red Wing fan and I kind of converted to a Colorado Avalanche, a little bit more.

Who is your most trusted friend on your team?

Most trusted friend on this team? Well, my best friend is Casey [Cizikas]. But I don’t know how much I trust him. We’ve been pretty close for a long time now. I think he was drafted a year after me. I can’t remember if he was drafted the same year as me or the year after me. But we came up together. We had training camp together. We were roommates at times and just became very close. His wife and my fiancee are very close as well. So we’ve been really tight for a long time now, probably like eight or nine years. And that other guys like Nick Leddy, also very close with Josh Bailey, who's been around forever. Cal Clutterbuck. There’s a lot of guys on this team I have played with now for seven-plus years. I know them, their families well. I said that probably one of the best parts about being a professional athlete is you get to meet a lot of people from different parts of the world, different cities, and if it wasn’t for this game, we would never have gotten the opportunity to meet.

Did you lose or win your first professional hockey game?

We won, actually. We played the Nashville Predators. I called up with the Nashville Predators at the Nassau Coliseum. And we won. I want to say we won 4-3 in a shootout. Brock Nelson scored the shootout winner. It was a pretty special day for me. Because a lot of nerves, lot of butterflies. You guys eat Tums? Ever have Tums? I ate a whole container that day. So my family was watching, a lot of friends, a lot of text messages, people reaching out to me. It was a special day if you reached one of your goals in life. You haven’t done anything yet, but it’s one of those moments where you feel like, you know, I’m here now. And I have arrived. And I was able to build my career.

Who do you feel is the best player on your team besides you?

You guys are trying to get me in trouble. Matt Barzal is a pretty good player. He’s a good younger player in his sleep. Our captain, Anders Lee, is a really good player as well. He scores a lot of goals. But everybody at this level plays an important role for the team, and we all do our part. We all have our impacts in different ways, so we try to look at things more collectively where it’s like as a team we’re really good. It’s not so much as individuals because it is a team game, and individually you don’t get too far if you’re not playing within the team constant. So that’s another thing you learn from this game is like my team — you don’t do everything on your own. You have family and you have friends who support you and help you, and teachers. People on the way that guide you and help you, so my teammates are important to any success I can have on the ice as an individual, and if you’re having team success, you’re having individual success. So it all goes hand-in-hand.

Did you always want to be a hockey player?

Yeah. I can’t really imagine what I’d be doing if I wasn’t playing hockey. Like I said, I started skating at such a young age. My dad played when he was younger. My brother and sister played. My brother is seven years older than me. I was always able to watch him play, even at a very young age. He was always playing with many sticks, things like that. And in the basement, he’d always play with me when I was a kid. So it was a game that was inbred in our family and has brought us a lot of happiness and joy over the years. So it’s pretty well all I’ve ever thought about doing and obviously very grateful for the way it’s all worked out for me.

What is the first thing you bought when you were a pro?

That’s a really tough question. Between having to pay my own bills, paying for rent and buying a car. I had to buy a car. That was probably one of the first things. My first car was a Lincoln Navigator, actually. First car that I bought myself. ... My favorite thing that I’ve bought myself was a Rolex watch. I don’t know if that was my first purchase. I don’t think it was. I think I had to make a little bit more money before I bought one of those. But it’s something I still wear every day. I’ve had it for about 10 years now and pretty well never take if off.

What was the highest number of goals you have ever scored in a single pro game?

In a single pro game I’ve scored two goals a couple of times. Never had the hat trick, which hopefully I can get one of those someday. But any time you score it’s pretty special. But I’ve scored two, I think two or three times in my career. And like I said, I’ve been out there for, when they pull a goalie, I’ve been out there to try and get the extra, to get the hat trick — never been able to do it. Hopefully, like I said, one day I’ll be able to do that. That’s that puck that you usually end up keeping and putting on your shelf and those are the ones you remember.

Do you have any pregame rituals?

Lot of pregame rituals. All right, so every day we come in in the morning, and we have a morning skate. And it starts there. I do the same kind of thing to prepare for the game. We get in cold tubs. Anybody been in cold tubs before? [No.] So it’s like 40 degrees. And you sit in for five minutes and you just freeze to death in there. So I do that after the morning skate. I eat the same meal. We have a chef that cooks for us. I have the same meal before the game. Wake up and go to sleep at the same time. In the afternoon, wake up at the same time. Have the same snack. Do the same kind of things every single game day. It’s a full preparation and even the night before you’re preparing and what time you go to bed. So we play tomorrow night at 7 o’clock and I would say I start preparing for that game right about now.

How do you plan on convincing your future father-in-law to become your favorite fan?

Oh, that’s going to be tough. He’s a huge Ranger fan, so much like how I was a Red Wing fan because my parents were Red Wing fans. His dad actually worked on Madison Square Garden and they had season tickets, and he would always go to the games as a kid. And he wore No. 7 in the NFL because of Rod Gilbert, who wore No. 7 for the Rangers. That was his favorite player. So I think he’s got a lot of really great memories of being a Ranger fan because it makes him think of his family. It makes him think of his parents. So he’s a tough one to crack. He’s pretty stubborn with his Ranger ways. His son, Gunnar, is as well. I think he converted for one minute to the Islander fans. His wife, Cheryl — Sydney, obviously, she’s not allowed to be a Ranger fan. She’s my fiancee. If she was a Ranger fan it wouldn’t work out too well. But he’s not going to convert any time soon. I think he was happier when I was in Toronto because then he didn’t have to deal with the Islanders-Rangers rivalry too much. But we have some fun with it as well, and luckily for us we’ve come out on top of that rivalry pretty well over the last few years.

Do you ever hear the crowd yelling at you, and do you want to yell back?

Yes and no. I think you always hear the crowd yelling. A lot of times they’re cheering you in your building. Sometimes they’re booing you. But most of the times they’re cheering you and supporting you and helping you get energy and motivating you. And especially at Nassau Coliseum, we feed off that crowd because it’s such a loud place to play, and I think that’s hard for the other team to come into. I know from playing in Montreal and Winnipeg and Boston, Philly, they have rambunctious crowds as well. So they use that crowd to their advantage. It almost feels like sometimes it would be 0-0 and you’ll be outshooting the team and their crowd is so loud that you feel like you’re being dominated. So that’s the advantage of home ice. But sometimes fans will yell, "Shoot," do this and do that. But those are the times when you don’t listen to them, because you would like to think that you can make the right decision. But they pay money to be there. They are serious, passionate, want the team winning as we are. Their hearts are in the right place. So we are very, very lucky to have the people watching us and supporting us and cheering for us. And day after day we just want them cheering at the end of the game. And we want to make 15,000 people be proud leaving a hockey game wearing our jerseys like that one. And make them feel good on their way home.

Christine Arthur’s fifth-grade class, Bayville Intermediate School

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