Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Steve Martinson Talks Championship, Upcoming Season, CHL, Coaching & Family

Allen Coach Steve Martinson - photo by

 If you ever spend one on one time with Allen Americans head coach, Steve Martinson, a few things become obvious very quickly. He is very comfortable in his own skin, hockey has been a big part of his life since childhood, and his family is very important to him. He loves to talk hockey, he has developed a system and style of play that is successful and he knows what works and doesn't work. He is not about to change and you can't argue with his success as he has won seven championships in his seventeen year coaching career. He has missed the playoffs only one time (2011-2012) and he has never lost a game seven in a playoff series.

Steve grew up in Minnetonka, Minnesota which is a suburb of Minneapolis and was a rink rat from when he was a little kid. His earliest hockey memories are walking a half mile from his house to the outdoor rink and playing hockey. He also played hockey on local ponds and more than once went through the ice early in the year. Unlike today, back then there were no parents, no supervision and no car to take you home. According to Steve the toughest part of getting soaked was having to walk home as you would be frozen from head to toe by the time you got there.

Steve attended college and played hockey at St. Cloud State which at the time was a Division II school about 90 miles north of Minneapolis. He had a fourteen year pro career in which he  played for fourteen different teams including 49 NHL games (Montreal-38, Detroit-10 & Minnesota-1). He met his wife, Michelle, while playing for the Hershey Bears (AHL) from 1985-1987. Steve and Michelle have two children, Logan is 13 and Lily is 10. Michelle's grandfather (Frank Mathers) was the President and General Manager of the Hershey Bears. Frank Mathers is a legend in AHL hockey history and Steve learned a lot about hockey and life from him. When I asked Steve about leadership he indicated Frank Mathers was a great leader and a mentor to him. For those of you not aware of Frank Mathers, he is often referred to as the Scotty Bowman of the American Hockey League. Here is his biography from "Legends Of The Game."  

During more than four decades as a player, coach and executive, Frank Mathers helped shape and strengthen the American Hockey League (AHL). His talents were well known and many NHL teams wanted to hire Mathers. He was staunchly loyal to the Hershey Bears and remained content working with the passionate fans of the AHL.
Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Mathers was a gifted athlete who played both professional football and hockey. After spending three years with the Toronto Maple Leafs during the late 1940s and early 1950s, Mathers began a long and rewarding relationship with the Hershey Bears. As a player, coach, general manager and president, Mathers did every possible job that went with running a hockey team.
On the ice Mathers became one of the AHL's all-time great defencemen, being voted to the all-star team on five consecutive occasions during the late 1950s. After he took on the dual role of player/coach the team won three Calder Cups. His greatest asset was remaining calm but still pushing players to reach their potential individually or as a team. He retired as a player in 1962 and turned his full attention to coaching. When he left the game, Mathers stood as the all-time assist and point-scoring leader among AHL defencemen.
Mathers was named president and general manager of the Bears in 1973. He continued to uphold the club's position as one of the league's elite operations. They won three more Calder Cups with Mathers in this executive role. After 43 years, Mathers retired from the game after the 1990-91 season. He was given his own special night in Hershey as the community came out to thank one of their greatest adopted sons. Mathers was presented the Lester Patrick trophy for his life long dedication to hockey in the United States. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992. Frank Mathers passed away in 2005.

An indication that Steve had learned a lot about what it takes to be a successful hockey coach while playing is the fact that he won the championship his first year as a head coach in 1996 (San Diego Gulls - WCHL).

Martinson has 33 years as a professional player and coach

 One of the things you learn in knowing Steve Martinson is you don't really interview him, you have a conversation with him. Honest as the day is long, willing to share his opinions and full of confidence he often answers four different questions when you ask him one. We covered a wide range of topics so thought it would be best to put his comments in categories and came up with the championship, the upcoming season, coaching philosophy,  the CHL, and family.


- When you win a championship it makes for a better summer because it makes for easier recruiting.

- There are so many ups and downs in the season like last year when we had guys called up and also had some injuries. We went through that tough period but I never lost confidence in what we were doing. I never lost faith in my approach, so to see us end up with the championship was very satisfying.

- The championship was satisfying for me personally because it came the year after missing the playoffs in Chicago. Missing the playoffs had never happened to me before. Even though that Chicago team lost seven players to the AHL and had seven season ending injuries and unbeknownst to me the team was folding it was tough missing the playoffs. To win the championship the year after missing the playoffs for the first time was big for me.

-  Our style of play proved to be the difference in the seven game series we had in the second round and the finals. We were the most physical team and when you finish your checks it is going to eventually payoff.


- I am trying to avoid the sure loss guys like Skinner and Howes for this season. I like to tell the young guys you can develop this year, we will try and loan you (AHL) for 5-10 games and then you can try and move up next year.

- The style of play this year will be the same as last year as it is always the same. The advantage of coaching in the CHL versus the NHL is the players are not on multi year contracts so they know if they want to play in Allen this is the style they are expected to play.

- There are no questions on defense. We have six experienced, established defensemen. We are looking for a seventh defenseman after Garret Clarke unexpectedly left for the ECHL (Toledo). It was disappointing that Garrett chose to leave but we have plenty of guys that want to play in Allen so we will have no problem filling that spot.

- We have three players at AHL camps with Alex Lavoie and Kale Kerbashian with the Oklahoma City Barons and Ryley Grantham at the Iowa Wild camp.

- We will not have an official affiliation with Oklahoma City but we will work with them to loan players. Oklahoma City has an affiliation with Bakersfield (ECHL) which is a long way to travel. I am good friends with the general manager in Bakersfield so we will work together. Being so close to Oklahoma City we will have plenty of opportunities to loan our younger players.  There may be an affiliation with the Stars but I do not see us loaning many players to them.

- We are still talking to a player from last year and his signing will add to our scoring. It is always more difficult to make the money work when players wait to sign contracts.

-  We should be in good shape scoring wise. Phil Fox and John Snowden scored more goals on a per game basis than anyone on our team last year other than Howes. Having Kerbashian for the full season should produce more goals for us. Alex Lavoie will be a great playmaker and scorer. Jonathan Lessard could be a 20 goals scorer this year and be a nasty guy to play against. Lukin and Bootland will get their usual 20 goals. We have a 21 year old left wing signed who is 6' 4" that has the potential to score 20 goals and will be tough to play against. On paper and just looking at our team heading to training camp I feel better this year than I did last year from a goal scoring perspective.

- We will have a locker room full of guys who will finish their checks, stick up for their teammates and fight when necessary. We will have a pack of wolves rather than one lion.

- It is not public yet but we have resolved the veteran issue so we will not have an extra veteran in camp.

- Our goalie situation is good with Pitton and Fogal. I have heard good things about both of them.

- Naming a captain is something we will consider as training camp takes place. My philosophy is with one year contracts each year stands by itself and you don't need long term captains like you have in the NHL. The captain doesn't have the same role in the CHL as in the NHL. We will see how it works itself out.

-  Both our equipment manager (Kacee Coberly) and trainer (Osama Kassab) are an important component of the team. Attracting good candidates for these jobs is similar to recruiting players. Allen is a great place to live and we work hard to get the guys promoted like happened recently to Jason Wallace. We want our guys to move up and that will happen for Kacee & Osama. Kacee just went with the Stars on their trip to St. Louis over the weekend. He will definitely be moving up. I don't know when but it will happen.

- We are going to have a real fun team this year. We have a team that is fast and physical with a lot of skill. We have good size, and a very experienced defense. The fun thing about camp is seeing the chemistry that develops between players and figuring out line and defense combinations.


- To me it is common sense that the ECHL got rid of the reciprocal agreement with the CHL because they want to take CHL players. For many teams in the CHL this can really hurt but it is a two way street and for a team like Allen which is a great place to play and we have a reputation for loaning players it is actually a good thing because players on the bottom of the ECHL standings will want to come to Allen. For the league as a whole a reciprocal agreement would be a good thing but for Allen it works to our advantage not having the agreement.

- I see the CHL as more of an entertainment league than a development league. For the CHL to say they want to be primarily a development league doesn't make sense as the ECHL is seen by players and agents as the place to be to get to the AHL. The rules in the ECHL also makes for it being more of a development league.

- The thing the CHL should do is to establish itself as an entertainment league and protect itself from the ECHL by changing the veteran rules to a higher number of games and maybe even lower the number of veterans a team can have. This way you can have the best vets and they can be your stars.

- There should be more parity in the league this year than in the past. Brampton has the advantage of being able to recruit players that can stay at home but the disadvantage of a tough travel schedule. Tulsa should be much improved because of the new ownership and the willingness to spend more money. Missouri and Wichita have good looking rosters. Every team has advantages and disadvantages. I'm not going to complain about other teams advantages because we have our own advantages.


- I have moved my family to Texas this year so it makes things so much better for me personally. We are in a nice house, the kids are playing hockey in the Allen Americans youth hockey program so I can be involved. I am an assistant coach on Lily's team and go to Logan's practices when I can. Since we live so close to the rink we can come down after school and skate so it is a big bonus to get extra ice time.

- My time away from the rink is spent with my family. Our home in Illinois is on a channel next to a river. There is an 8 acre island that creates the channel. We call the place Camp Martinson as we have a 24' x 36' sports court, ATV's, a boat to wakeboard and go tubing. In the winter I take out the boat dock and the channel becomes a 120' x 60' hockey rink. We have a gym in the home where I can work out with my wife. I love boating as it is something you can do with your family for ever. I brought my boat to Texas and we just spent some time on Lake Ray Hubbard. Our friends are parents of the kids Lilly and Logan play hockey with.


- On the first day of camp I will tell the players what I am looking for from each of them. I say it often and it is straightforward. What is important to me is having players that work hard, are in great shape, follow the system, be a team guy, and finish checks. If you don't do all of these things you can't be a leader.

- We want to make sure right away they understand the type of team we are going to be. That is one that competes hard, is physical and difficult to play against. While this is more verbal in training camp as you can't practice hitting it will be clear to everyone the expectations. I would rather have a player that hits hard and is a so so fighter than a player that can fight but doesn't hit hard.

- Sports to me is somewhat like the military. Many times you have to do things you don't like to do because it is for the good of the team. People that have to make tough decisions need to do it without letting personal feelings get in the way. That is what I try to do.

- What you did last year gets your foot in the door and maybe some positive perceptions but what happens this year is based on what you do this year. You have to earn your ice time. Brian McMillin last year was a good example as at the beginning of the year he was mostly a defensive player playing against the other teams top line but he worked hard and earned more ice time and look how it payed off in the playoffs.

- I always say don't mistake me for being friendly because I am not your friend. My job isn't to make players or fans happy. My job is to win games. I have gotten rid of the most popular players in order to help the team win. It is difficult making decisions to trade or cut players as it can have a great impact on their lives but my goal is to win games and do what is best for the team.

- You don't have to treat everyone the same but you have to be fair.


- Favorite Player Growing Up: Terry O'Reilly and Bobby Nystrom

- Favorite Motto or Saying: You can't expect to be the best if you don't work the hardest.

- Earliest Hockey Memory: Having fun at the rink. They would flood the outdoor rinks in Minnesota  the middle of December and flood them each day. I'd come home from school and head to the rink which was a half mile from home. I'd come home for dinner and then head right back to the rink.

- What Do You Do On The Bus: I spend most of my time on the bus dealing with hockey issues and looking at tape but I will watch  movies as well.

- Favorite TV Shows: The Bridge & Game of Thrones

- If You Could Have Lunch With Anyone Who Would It Be. Scotty Bowman 

After spending some time with Steve Martinson and Richard Matvichuk you can be confident we are going to have another great season in Allen. Repeating as champions will be very difficult as it has only been done twice in the history if the league and the last time was ten years ago (Mississippi River Kings). They are happy with the team they have assembled and even though there will be setbacks, trials and tribulations as there always is in minor pro hockey our chances are excellent. We have great ownership, great coaches, a great community to live and play in and an ever expanding fan base. We have been spoiled the first four years of existence having finished first or second in the standings each year. No reason to see that streak end this year. We are just 24 days away from the home opener and I for one can't wait. Get your tickets early for the home opener (October 20th). It will be the unveiling of the new team but it will also be a celebration of the the championship from last year complete with raising the banner to the rafters at the Allen Event Center.

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