BY PAM SHEBEST
Kalamazoo, MI.- Cold feet is one of the things Joel Martin does not miss since he traded his goalie pads for a suit and tie.
But he has found that standing behind the bench instead of in net brings other challenges.
During the Kalamazoo Wings’ 4-3 ECHL home win over Indy Jan. 27, “I actually had my coat on on the bench,” said Martin, in his first year as the team’s assistant coach. “I used to get cold as a goalie, actually.
“In-between periods I’d put the heating pads on my skates to warm up my feet. Now it’s my upper torso that’s freezing every game. I think I need to invest in a few more dress sweaters.”
Martin brings a wealth of experience to his new role.
He played nine of his 15 pro years with the K-Wings and holds the franchise record with 229 wins, 21 shutouts, 422 games-played, 24,755 minutes-played and 12,310 saves.
He was also in net for the team’s UHL Colonial Championship in 2006.
After last season, the 36-year-old decided it was time to retire.
“I kind of got all the tread off the tire when it came to my body and I really couldn’t take the physical side of it any more,” he said. “I just felt it was the right time.”
“My biggest fear was having to bring it up to my wife and tell her I wanted to make the transition to coaching. When I did, it was the first time this summer when she said it kinda feels like the right time. That made the change so much easier for me that she was 100 percent all in.”
K-Wings coach Nick Bootland was not surprised when Martin applied for the assistant coach’s position.
“We talked a few times about it,” Bootland said. “Him and I together have 20-plus years in this community and we believe in the community and we believe in Kalamazoo Wings hockey and we believe in our ownership group.
‘“He has that culture and has the same core values that I have and that our organization has and that makes it easy.”
Martin has no problem coaching players who were teammates last season.
“One of the biggest differences is just the way you’re involved with the player, going from being a teammate to their coach, so that communication with them obviously changes,” he said.
“The time you spend with them changes so that was a huge, huge adjustment for myself to go to that role with players I played with for six years. That was different.”
One of those players is Eric Kattelus, a defenseman who sometimes fills in at forward.
“You can see that he’s still itching to be out there making some saves for us but, at the same time, he’s been helping out incredibly with our goaltending, teaching them and they’re willing to learn,” said Kattelus, in his eighth season as a K-Wing.
“It’s nice to have him out there. He’s a calming, very healthy voice to have on the defensive zone. Very positive. He’s a great teacher of the game.”
Martin works with the defense and goalies but don’t expect to see him between the pipes when the K-Wings are down a netminder.
Martin still has some of his equipment, but not enough left to actually play goal.
“I’ve got a full set of player gear,” he said. “I get a hard time from the guys sometimes when we have one goalie in practice, but I’m not sure if I put the equipment on if I’d be able to walk the next day.”
His career change hit him the most during the team’s first game of the season.
“The hardest part of my first game behind the bench was not playing in front of my kids (Louis, 5, and Thomas, 3) or bringing them into the locker room after a win,” he said.
“That’s the only part that was harder than not being on the ice with the boys.”
Since he never skated as a defenseman, Martin has been doing his homework.
“I’m working with the ‘D’ for the most part on the back end and I got a lot of guys I played a lot of years with back there,” he said.
“They all know I wasn’t a defenseman but I’m doing my homework to learn as much as I can about the position from NHL defensemen and NHL coaches that teach that position and try to relay that as best as I can.”
Bootland said Martin’s work ethic as a goaltender has carried over to his coaching.
“No one’s gonna outwork him.,” Bootland said. “The things I’ve asked him to do on a daily basis, he’s done that and more.”
Martin said he was surprised at how much extra work is involved.
“I think my wife thought she was going to see me more than when I was playing and it’s definitely been the opposite,” he said.
“You leave the rink a lot later every day. You’re watching video every day. Working from home, more paper work, tons of video. I knew it existed but the amount that you do was a bit of a surprise.”
He still makes time for his first priority, his family, and that is not lost on the players.
“He’s just a great family man as well,” Kattelus said. “He teaches some of the younger guys about having his kids in the room and having a wonderful wife in Caroline.
“He’s just a good person, good leader and easy to look up to.”
Martin’s children are already out on the ice, especially during the post-game skates after the K-Wings’ Sunday games.
“It was easy with one kid and then Louis was able to wheel around on his own and then I could start working with Tom a little bit,” he said.
Louis is in his first year of KOHA 6-under program and both boys did the Greater Kalamazoo Skating Association Learn to Skate program.
If they decide to play hockey in the future, Martin is OK with that.
But as goalies?
“That’s a definite no,” he said, laughing. “I’m already working on that. Keep them out of the net at all costs. Obviously though, if they really want to do that, I’ll support them.”