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Gophers hockey notebook: Former Gopher, NHL'er Martin let his on-ice play do the talking

Former University of Minnesota defenseman Paul Martin recently announced his retirement from the NHL. He played for the Gophers from 2000-03. Stan Szeto / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS -- Paul Martin’s leisurely stroll through the Minnesota Wild locker room, as he prepped to play in the NHL YoungStars Game before the 2004 All-Star Game, was interrupted by a Montreal TV reporter with an unexpected question.

“Paul, are you Canadian?” the underprepared reporter asked, hoping to put together a funny interview with the young New Jersey Devils’ defenseman who happened to have the same name as Canada’s newly-elected prime minister.

Martin -- the hockey-playing one -- was less than a year removed from helping the Gophers to a second consecutive NCAA title and four years removed from being named Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey after his senior season at Elk River High School. An athlete with an outsized ego might have responded curtly. But that would’ve been far removed from the style that Martin displayed in three seasons of college hockey and 14 seasons in the NHL.

“No, sorry,” he said with a smile. “I’m from here.”

With no hockey job offers of his liking on the table, the 37-year-old Martin quietly retired this month from a pro hockey career that included stops in New Jersey, Pittsburgh and finally San Jose, where he skated in the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals with the Sharks.

“Off the ice, Paul is probably one of the nicest, most generous guys you’ll meet,” said Wild left winger Zach Parise, who was Martin’s teammate in New Jersey for five years and on the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team. “On the ice, not necessarily the flashiest guy, but was an unbelievable player. You have to play with him to understand how good he is. You see how good he always made his defensive partners.”

Still, Martin’s skills weren’t immediately apparent to Bob Motzko when he became a Gophers assistant coach in 2001.

“I’d just gotten here and the first week of practice in the locker room, we’re talking about Paul Martin, and I said ‘I don’t see it.’ Because he’s laid back and nonchalant,” Motzko said. “About three weeks later it was like ‘holy mackerel, was I blind’ because he was as good as I’ve seen around in college hockey. We couldn’t run forecheck drills because he would just break it out every time. You could throw five guys at him and he would break the puck out.”

Martin also started the Shine A Ligh7 Foundation in 2017, which raises funds and awareness for those affected by bullying, depression and mental health issues.

Sheehy named Big Ten’s first star

As a sophomore, Tyler Sheehy was the Big Ten’s player of the year after leading the conference in scoring. Then injuries came calling, and his production dropped off as a junior. If last weekend is any indication, the senior captain is quickly returning to form. Sheehy, who had four goals in the two-game split with Michigan State last weekend, was named the Big Ten first star of the week on Tuesday.

Tyler Sheehy“I was maybe a little bit snakebit early on and hit a couple posts, put a couple off the goalie’s neck, but I kind of felt like some goals were coming,” said Sheehy, who is playing on the team’s top line with Brent Gates and Rem Pitlick. “This weekend thank god I was able to put a couple past them and get that weight off my shoulders.”

Sheehy skated with a red cross pullover in Tuesday’s Gopher practice, designating him for no contact in drills, but insisted he will be good to go for the weekend series with Ohio State.

“I feel fine. It was more precautionary than anything else,” he said “I kind of took a big hit on Saturday night and I’m a little banged up, but I’ll be ready to go this weekend.”