One of the revelations of this NHL postseason has been a Los Angeles Kings defender with a wicked wrist shot named Alec Martinez.
Last week, locked in an overtime battle against the Chicago Blackhawks during Game 7 of the Western Conference final, Justin Williams passed the puck from deep on the Blackhawks side of the ice to Martinez, just inside the blue line.
Martinez steadied the puck, flicked it 60 feet and, after a small deflection, got it through the legs of Chicago goalie, Corey Crawford.
It might seem as if the guy who put the Kings back into the Stanley Cup finals would feel right at home with all the Chicanos in L.A., but the fifth-year Kings defenseman isn’t your typical hockey player. He isn’t even your average Martinez.
Among his ancestors are the founder of the town of Dedham, Mass., a soldier in the Union Army during the Civil War, a grandfather from Spain (hence, Martinez), and Alec’s father, Frank, who worked for 30 years for General Motors.
As a result, he seems most at home in the Midwest. He grew up mainly in the Detroit area (apart from a spell in Northern California when Martinez’s dad was transferred to a Toyota plant in Fremont).
He spent a year playing with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the United States Hockey League (USHL), which is an amateur league that allows players to remain eligible for NCAA play.
With the RoughRiders, Martinez got his first taste of success, as the team won the regular-season title.
He spent three years at Miami of Ohio, and, as he wrote in a January column for NHL.com, “I considered other colleges but I kind of knew I was going to Miami of Ohio.”
Why? Location, location, location.
“It was close enough to home but far away enough,” he wrote, “about a four- or five-hour drive from Detroit.”
Plus it didn’t hurt that Miami has a solid hockey program, so he got to go to the NCAA Tournament all three years he was there.
For the next few years, he shuttled between the Kings and their American Hockey League affiliate, the Manchester (N.H.) Monarchs, but latched on with the main club in time for its last Stanley Cup win in 2012.
That run through the playoffs, he scored only once in 20 games. This time around, he already has four goals and five assists. Not bad for a guy who started the season in coach Darryl Sutter's doghouse.
But it's a good thing he made it out. The Kings have scored 12 goals more than they've let in while he's on the ice, and they now have a commanding 2-0 lead in the Finals against the New York Rangers heading into Game 3 Monday night.
But he hasn’t entirely acclimated to the Southern California life. On May 5 of this year, someone in the locker room asked Martinez, in front of a Los Angeles Times reporter, if he felt a “special vibe” because of Cinco de Mayo.
“No,” Martinez corrected his questioner. “I’m Spanish.”