FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 17, 2022
‘CLOSE KNIT’ AND READY, K-WINGS MARTIN & SCHULTZ PRIMED TO SHINE
Kalamazoo’s first-year coaches' distinctive backgrounds forge perfect balance from day one.
Pam Shebest for the K-Wings
KALAMAZOO, MI – When they first met over ice cream in Kansas City, Joel Martin and Kohl Schultz were both assistant coaches, Martin with the Kalamazoo Wings and Schultz with the Mavericks.
Neither realized at the time that their futures would be forever linked.
When Martin was named the K-Wings head coach in August, he tapped Schultz as his assistant.
But it was not the shared love of ice cream that clinched the deal.
Mitch MacLeod, former K-Wings equipment manager, knew Schultz when both were with AHL Stockton.
“Mitch would always talk about Kohl non-stop so I heard a lot about him,” Martin said.
As soon as the assistant’s job was posted, MacLeod contacted both men.
“It was one of those situations where I’d been to Kalamazoo once and, in the interest of total honesty, I thought I was getting a lot of Mitch MacLeod Michigan bias,” Schultz said.
“He was like this place is unreal, I think you’d be a great fit.”
Schultz soon found out it was more than MacLeod bias.
“Honestly, since talking to Joel the first time on the phone to assimilating into the community, having a dinner with our ownership group, you really do see how special this place is, this community is,” he said.
“I well up every time I see our pregame entry video. It just shows how wonderful this community is and how special hockey can be and what it means to it.”
As soon as Schultz settled into the hockey office, Martin had one task he could not wait to hand off to his assistant.
“Some of the paperwork for sure,” Martin said as both men laughed in unison.
“Of course, that goes with me picking up new jobs like payroll, so it’s its own set of paperwork that I didn’t have to do before.”
Application a no-brainer
Once Martin knew Nick Bootland was giving up the head coaching job to become an assistant with the AHL Hershey Bears, he submitted his application to replace his mentor and was hired.
That gives the former K-Wings goalie a hat trick of positions with the team.
“As a player, the biggest thing is you only have to worry about yourself, so that makes life pretty easy, taking care of yourself, figuring out what you need to try to be successful, being really focused individually,” Martin said.
“As assistant coach, you’re more of a support system. I was a support system for Nick. You give ideas and try to take things off the head coach’s plate.”
Now, as a head coach, “you’re in charge of making all the decisions at the end of the day, really worrying about the 26 guys you have in the locker room, your entire staff, trying to help them with their needs along with all your players.”
Before committing to the job, Martin talked it over with his wife, Caroline.
“Her and my two boys (Louis and Thomas) were ecstatic about the opportunity to stay in Kalamazoo and be part of this franchise and this community,” he said.
“Her support in the sense of understanding that this is going to be a lot more responsibility for me and she would have to deal with a lot more with our boys, getting them to hockey and school. Her willingness to be behind that, and be a part of that, meant the world to me.”
Both boys play hockey, Louis on a 10-under travel team and Thomas on an 8-under team. Whenever he gets a chance, Martin watches them practice, but stays away from the coaching part.
“When I’m watching my kids, I just try to be a dad,” he said. “I want them to enjoy their time out there. Thomas played goalie and he seems to like it.
“Lou scores too many goals to want to be a goalie. He’s having too much fun that way.”
Video coaching a game-changer
Schultz played hockey on the club team at University of North Carolina, but he started working with a youth team after an injury in his junior year.
That was all it took for him to change his career path from law to hockey.
“Fortunately for me and probably unfortunately for my parents, a volunteer position opened up at Bemidji State University (Minnesota),” Schultz said. “That’s where the whole journey started.”
Instead of continuing on to law school after graduating with a degree in political science and one credit short of a German minor, Schultz entered the hockey arena.
He spent two years working as a video coach for head coach Red Gendron at the University of Maine, then became video coach for the AHL Stockton Heat in the NHL Calgary Flames organization.
“I considered my year at Bemidji my bachelors in hockey and working for Red was kind of my masters,” Schultz said.
Stockton sent Schultz to ECHL affiliate Kansas City as an assistant coach, then made him interim coach when Scott Dickson was let go in the middle of January 2020.
“Actually, it was following a loss to the Kalamazoo Wings,” Schultz remembered. “We lost 6-1 on a Tuesday night. That Thursday they named me the interim head coach.”
Working as a video coach definitely had its perks.
“What it allowed me to do was see the game from a different angle,” Schultz said. “When you watch a game on video, time, space, all that stuff becomes a little bit more apparent.
“It’s a bit slower up top than it is when you’re behind the bench, and it’s probably what I needed in terms of getting up to speed. I don’t have that professional playing experience.”
Schultz credits Cail MacLean, now an assistant coach with the Flames, for showing him how to teach players through video.
“Bringing guys in, making guys involved in the process and in their own learning because, candidly, it can be scary to watch yourself in a fish bowl and evaluate yourself.”
All that experience helped him land in Kalamazoo.
“I interviewed Kohl and he was the best candidate for the job, the most qualified, fit the culture and the character side of things,” Martin said. “He stepped in and has done an unbelievable job and even exceeded high expectations.
“I think we share a lot of the philosophies when it comes to coaching and systems and players. His technical skills are through the charts, which is probably not a strength of mine, so that’s huge, too.
“He’s a really good communicator with the players, which is awesome. His humor is good. He’s got a great laugh.”
Humor and laughs are just one side of Schultz.
“I think I have the best job in the world,” he said. “I’m really fortunate to share an office with Joel Martin and (video coach) Ben Wilson. I learn something new from those two every day, from the community down.
“I get to learn, I get to joke. We’re like a close-knit dysfunctional family. It’s awesome.”
While Schultz said the Martins have made him feel like part of their family, his own includes Phoebe, a dog he rescued out of a barn and calls a “super mutt.”
That booming laugh often erupts in conversation, including talking about the spelling of his first name.
No, he does not own a chain of department stores.
“I wish I had a great excuse for that name, but being 100 percent honest, my mom just liked the spelling of it,” Schultz said. “The unfortunate thing is, it means ‘cabbage’ in German.
“I don’t have a cool first name. What does your first name mean? I’m literally a plant.”
The Kalamazoo Wings are a professional hockey team located in southwest Michigan that has been a staple in the Kalamazoo, MI professional sports landscape since 1974. The K-Wings compete in the ECHL and are the AA affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Columbus Blue Jackets and the American Hockey League’s Cleveland Monsters. Kalamazoo plays their 36 regular season home games at Wings Event Center from October through April.