As Canucks goaltender Spencer Martin begins preparations for the biggest season of his hockey career, he’s already making some major decisions.
One of those big choices? Retiring the beloved chrome mask he wore during his breakout 2020-21 campaign in Vancouver, a helmet he donned at a Canucks summer skate on Monday.
“Just trying to take some attention off myself,” Martin told David Quadrelli and Patrick Johnston with a laugh on Monday. “I realized I’m not a seven-year guy, I’m a first-game guy. It changes the effect.”
Martin and his Mandalorian Beskar-esque helmet provided some of the brightest moments of Vancouver’s roller-coaster season last year. While filling in for Thatcher Demko and Jaroslav Halak due to various injuries and ailments, the 27-year-old netminder posted a 3-0-3 record and a staggering .950 save percentage.
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Combine his small NHL sample size with some strong AHL numbers for Abbotsford, and Martin is looking to earn himself a serious promotion in 2022-23. And the decision to go with a more inconspicuous helmet plays into that thinking; Martin sees the year ahead as his potential NHL rookie season.
For now, he’s taking it all in stride. “I don’t want to get too ahead of myself. I just really want to come in and have a good month before camp,” Martin said. “I’ve really learned to trust the system and just take it day by day with Clarkie [Canucks goalie coach Ian Clark].”
Martin spent his offseason training with Pittsburgh Penguins goalie coach Andy Chiodo in Welland, Ontario, about an hour’s drive from his hometown of Oakville. But Martin chose to return to Vancouver early to work with Ian Clark, saying his goal is to “get my feet underneath me right away” ahead of Canucks training camp next month.
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Martin arrives as Thatcher Demko’s expected backup, but he won’t be the only man gunning for the job. Along with Martin’s Abbotsford teammate Arturs Silovs, newcomer Collin Delia has a resume of NHL experience from his time with the Chicago Blackhawks.
But Martin sees the added competition as a valuable part of the process.
“I think it’s a good model around the league, like a lot of the good teams are stacking up on depth,” Martin said. “You see in the playoffs a team like Pittsburgh, you got [Louis] Domingue stepping in. It makes a difference to have depth so yeah, it definitely pushes me. You’re fighting to have a roster spot and as much opportunity as you can.”
The number of opportunities head coach Bruce Boudreau will give to goalies not named Demko remains to be seen. But Martin’s no stranger to going long stretches between games and knows how to utilize that time productively.
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“Even last year I started off playing probably two games in the first month or two months or whatever. So you can use those little windows for practice even though nobody wants to be in that situation. You want to be playing. But I feel like I have experience in that.”
Martin’s biggest competition for the number two job is likely Delia, as the organization expects to give Silovs a bit more time marinating in the AHL. While Martin hadn’t been formally introduced to the 28-year-old veteran before they arrived in Vancouver, he sees a lot of similar potential in Delia as well.
“He’s a big-time professional. Seems like he’s grasping everything that Clarkie has given him right away, so I’m excited for his game to show some of those tendencies as well,” Martin said. “You’re gonna have that fresh palette just to work on things, but it seems like he’s doing a really good job just picking up on the fly and being open-minded.”
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But Martin’s extended stays with the NHL team last year gave him a leg up on his competition. While last year involved a lot of brand new philosophies from Clark’s system, he returns this season with an understanding of where his improvements need to come from in the months ahead.
“This year we get to remember a few things within this system to go work on, kind of in the lab setting where you don’t have a game that weekend or that day,” Martin said. “So we get to practice a ton of little things and hopefully, as we get going full speed here, it’s gonna show.”