Even when he left the Islanders, Matt Martin never really left Long Island.
When he signed a four-year, $10 million deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2016, the gritty forward maintained a home out east and continued to run the island-based Matt Martin Foundation. So when the Islanders traded to get Martin back over this past summer, the NHL veteran of nearly 10 years had plenty of roots firmly planted upon his return.
“I was really excited to come back and to get that call from Lou to come back,” said Martin, referring to Islanders’ President of Hockey Operations Lou Lamoriello, whom served as Martin’s general manager when he skated in Toronto. “The fan base embraces me here and that especially gives me the sense that this is where I should be.”
The left wing rejoined the Islanders at a time of major upheaval. Aside from Lamoriello coming aboard to run the show, Stanley Cup winning head coach Barry Trotz was brought in after he decided not to re-sign with the Washington Capitals. And then there was the incident over the summer that stunned fans and shook the team to its core—when dynamic scorer and team captain John Tavares decided to jump ship to play for Martin’s former team, the Leafs.
As Tavares had been the Islanders’ main scorer since he was drafted first overall in 2009, many hockey writers counted the team out from contention before teams even took the ice to open the 2018-19 season. But the Islanders have come out of the gate in solid form, sitting near the top of the Metropolitan Division and matching up well against some of the league’s best.
“A lot of people counted this team out when John left,” said Martin, “so we all came into this year with a bit of a chip on our shoulder, looking to prove that we can compete in this league.”
For Martin, the early success is directly linked to how the new coach and his staff has the team attacking not only games, but practice as well.
“They’ve got us working hard, but not overworking us,” said Martin, who even after 10 years in the league still believes in the importance of team practice. “It’s the kind of thing you never want to take lightly. It’s important because it keeps you ready for the actual game and a good coaching staff keeps you on your toes during practice and that’s what we have here.”
Martin, standing at around 6’3″ and clocking in at about 220 pounds, was drafted in the fifth round by the Islanders in 2008. His first go-round with the team spanned from 2010-16, with Martin contributing 42 goals, 46 assists and 680 penalty minutes during that time. Martin’s physicality on the ice has also been his main impact on the game, using crushing hits, strong checking and sheer intimidation to make his presence felt by opposing teams.
On the island, Martin’s presence is felt in more nuanced ways including with the Matt Martin Foundation, which he began as a way to generate financial support and awareness for several causes such as the NYPD Widows and Children’s Fund, the Islanders Children’s Foundation and the Boomer Esiason Foundation for Cystic Fibrosis, a cause especially close to Martin’s heart, as he is engaged to Esiason’s daughter, Sydney. Martin’s foundation also organizes a series of year-round events and programs like a 4-on-4 Winter Classic Hockey Tournament and a Night at the Museum Fundraiser.
Though Martin continued to run his foundation while in Toronto, his returned solidified not only his hockey ties to the Island and the fans, but also his bigger-than-sports charitable efforts as well.
“I’m so thankful for this fan base. They welcomed me back,” he said. “And that support has always made me want to find ways to give back.”