The Michigan native is a major sports fan, including baseball. But, truth be told, he’s a Detroit fan through and through. In fact, he was likely headed home for the Tigers playoff games this weekend.
“I talked to one of my buddies, Andy Greene of the Devils, and he’s flying in to go to the games on Saturday and Sunday,” said Martinez of his former college teammate. “I was thinking about doing that too because I never had the opportunity to see them in the playoffs growing up. It’s a real exciting time around there and I wish I would’ve been able to experience it. But, ultimately, I have a job.”
And that job has him bound for Finland today.
If you listened to Martinez on the MayorsManor show recently, you may recall him saying his agent had a few feelers out to see what opportunities may be available now that the NHL has locked out its players.
When TPS Turku of SM-liiga lost a defenseman earlier this week due to an injury – well, as the saying goes – one door closed and another one opened.
This time, it just took about 10 hours or so due to the time change.
“I found out late Wednesday night,” Martinez explained. “My agent called me to say there might be an opportunity. We just had to wait for them to wake up in the morning and to figure out more details. So, I got the word Thursday morning and then signed the contract before I flew back to Dallas to pack up my life and grab lots of warm clothes.”
Nobody backed a Brinks truck up to lure him overseas. This isn’t about a quick cash grab. Martinez realizes that even though his name was recently engraved on the Stanley Cup, he needs to remain sharp.
“I need to stay in game shape. I’m at a stage in my career where I need to keep playing games and I need to keep my skill set up. Regular season wise, I only played about 50-something games last year.”
There’s also a flip side to that as well. The roster spot he’s filling with TPS – it was St. Louis Blues defenseman Kris Russell who had originally signed with the club and is now headed back to the States injured. Yes, the worst possible scenario during the lockout.
“Obviously it sits in the back of your mind,” Martinez shared. “But to be quite honest, it could happen here in the skates I’ve been going to in LA [referring to the weekly sessions several pros are participating in at TSC]. Injuries are, unfortunately, an inevitable part of the game. Of course, I hope nothing happens…There were certain things to figure out insurance wise and things like that. I don’t anticipate bad things happening. But, it’s the game of hockey and things do happen.”
When talking about the process he went though to make this decision, Martinez used the term ‘due dilligance’ about a dozen times. Clearly a lot went into this. So, why Finland? Why not one of the other leagues over in Europe?
“There are a lot of things that go into it,” Martinez began. “One, it seems like it’s a pretty good organization. Two, geographical location. It’s in Turku, but I’m not going to pretend like I know a ton about it. I’ve done a little research on Wikipedia though (we laughed). It’s on the southwestern shore of Finland. It’s a good situation too because they have three North American players on the team. So, there will be a few guys there to help me out. Also, in Finland a lot of people speak English. I didn’t really have any desire to go to Russia. So, I had to keep my eyes open for spots in Finland, Sweden or maybe the Swiss League or the DEL in Germany. The Finnish league is competitive too. So, all those things kinda made it seem like it was a good spot.”
One of those North American players on TPS is former King Brian Willsie, who currently serves as their team captain. Martinez and Willsie were never really in the LA organization at the same time. However, they crossed paths a few times in the AHL. They also chatted by phone yesterday, as Willsie welcomed him to the team and gave him some advice on what to pack.
Knowing the importance of his decision, Martinez also spent the last few weeks seeking counsel from several other NHL players.
“I talked to a lot of different guys, some of the older guys,” he said. “You talk to people who have been through the lockout before – there’s not very many on our team considering how young we are. But, I know other people throughout the league and I got some advice from them. Everyone was really supportive. We’ll see what happens here with the negotiations. But, I wouldn’t be surprised if more guys throughout the league starting going over there.”
Unfortunately, that’s the reality of the current situation. Things don’t appear to be getting any better between the NHL and the NHLPA. So, with an end to the lockout not expected anytime in the near future, Martinez is now focused on what’s on his calendar in the coming days – including his first game with TPS on Tuesday.
“Yeah, I hear that we have quite the schedule and I’ll be getting thrown into the fire,” he jokingly remarked. “I think we have four games next week and I guess one of those is against a team that lives really far away, up in Northern Finland. But, I’m excited to start playing hockey.”
The tough sledding won’t just come from the schedule. TPS currently sits in last place, with five points after their first eight games. Tuesday’s game is against JYP, the current league leaders with 22 points.
TPS does have a strong history though. They’re the most successful hockey franchise in Finland, winning 11 championship titles – including as recently as 2010. They’re also owned in-part by several of their former players, including NHLers Miikka Kiprusoff, Mikko Koivu and Saku Koivu.
“Hopefully I can go over there and help the team win. It seems like they have a pretty good group of guys on the team right now and it’s a pretty good opportunity to play. It should be a good place for me.”
So, back to work it is. No baseball playoffs for Martinez.
“It’s unfortunate the Dodgers didn’t make it too,” he quickly quipped before we hung up. “I was really hoping they were going to pull it out.”
Perhaps showing he’s bringing some memories of home with him, he left us with this parting shot…
“I’m bringing my Dodgers lid with me, but I’ll be rockin’ a Tigers hat when I step off the plane.”