Matt Martin is soft-spoken, the father of two young daughters and who often gives his time to charitable causes. That’s off the ice. On the ice, the Islanders fourth-liner is a formidable foe whenever he drops his gloves.
“I think it’s a pretty easy on-and-off switch,” Martin said. “I’m not somebody that goes looking for fights in the street. Generally I don’t think I’m an overly aggressive person off the ice. Most guys in here, that competitive fire comes out when the puck drops and you turn into a different person a little bit during those games. And then when it’s done, it’s done.”
The Islanders continued a three-game homestand against Chicago on Sunday night at UBS Arena and Martin had fights in the two previous games, giving him 102 in 841 NHL regular-season games, per hockeyfights.com. That makes him the team leader in that category.
It also makes Martin one of the team leaders in the dressing room for his willingness to protect his teammates.
He fought Zach MacEwen seven seconds into the Islanders’ 3-1 loss in Philadelphia on Tuesday – a fight seemingly arranged when those two chatted during pregame warmups – as hostilities spilled over from the Islanders’ 5-2 win over the visiting Flyers on Nov. 26.
“I have a lot of respect for all the guys around the league that do it,” Martin said. “Even if they’re not fighters. Anyone who is willing to step up in that situation. You’ve got 20,000 people watching you and sometimes it might not go so well for you. And, nowadays, you’re trending on Twitter for it. I think hockey players, in general, away from the rink, all seem to be pretty good guys when you meet them.
“Guys that you dislike on other teams, you meet them and you’re like, ‘Eh, he’s a nice guy.’ I met a lot of the guys over the years. You almost gain somewhat of a relationship with them just from going at it with them so many times. Wayne Simmonds would be one that I never really knew and we had our fair share over the years. If I see him in the hallway I give him a handshake and see how he’s doing. It’s all respect at the end of the day.”
While the NHL has never taken full measures to eliminate fighting, the number of fights has drastically dropped from the rough-and-tumble Original Six days to even the 1980s and 1990s.
For instance, Islanders coach Lane Lambert had 45 fights, per hockeyfights.com, in his career 283 games for the Red Wings, Rangers and Nordiques in the 1980s.
Martin entered Sunday with three fights this season. His high is 15 in 2011-12.
Ross Johnston, the Islanders’ other tough guy with 20 fights in 123 career games entering Sunday, per hockeyfights.com, said it took a while to separate what he does as a job from the person he is.
“I don’t think you develop it overnight,” Johnston said. “The length of your career in junior and everything, you understand there’s a certain aspect of the game that needs to be brought into the game. Separating the two is definitely sometimes difficult. When there’s emotion involved it’s always easier. When you’re mad going into a fight and you want to punch someone, it’s pretty easy. But you’ve just got to be able to turn it on and off. That’s the job at the end of the day.”
Notes & quotes: D Robin Salo was recalled from the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport after playing in Saturday’s 5-1 win at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He was sent down on Wednesday.