EL SEGUNDO, CA — As the media waited near the Los Angeles Kings’ dressing room area door at the their practice facility on Sunday morning, something rather unusual caught our eyes.
As some of the Kings’ players walked to the ice surface for an optional skate, one was very different from the rest, wearing a green practice jersey, a white sock on one leg, and a red one on the other.
But here’s the kicker…that player was also wearing a sombrero as he walked by, immediately drawing laughter from the media, and soon after, fans at the Toyota Sports Center, as defenseman Alec Martinez skated onto the ice.
Meanwhile, a small handful of media, still laughing, went to the Kings’ bench to take photos, which is usually forbidden. But under the very unusual circumstances, Kings Communications staff did not intervene.
Also taking photos and video from the bench was left wing Dustin Penner, who laughed as he walked back to the dressing room to put his cell phone away before heading back out for practice.
Martinez warmed up with the sombrero on, but when drills started, he switched to his helmet.
“We had a little fun with that in the locker room,” Martinez explained. “If you can’t laugh at yourself, I don’t think you can laugh at all. The guys got a good laugh out of it, I got a good laugh out of it. It was fun.”
“It was funny,” Martinez elaborated. “We had fun with it, but it was back to work, once we were on the ice.”
As reported earlier, the smattering of fans in attendance were laughing and cheering when they spotted Martinez with the sombrero,
“They were cheering,” Martinez noted. “That was pretty funny.”
The sombrero was given to Martinez as a joke by head coach Darryl Sutter, presumably because the date was May 5—Cinco de Mayo. But the joke would have been funnier if Martinez was actually of Mexican heritage.
He is not.
“My grandfather—that’s the Spanish side of my family.” said Martinez. “My grandfather’s brothers were born in Spain, but he was born here, in the States. That’s where I get my last name.”
With that last name, Martinez sometimes runs into people who assume he speaks fluent Spanish.
He does not.
“Every once in awhile, you get someone at the autograph sessions who starts rattling off Spanish, and I just have to say, ‘sorry, slow down. I don’t know what you’re saying,’” he noted. “Other than the basics, I’m not too good with it.”
“I took [Spanish] in high school, but it’s not like—my Dad never knew it,” he added. “My grandmother was English-Canadian, so she clearly didn’t know it. They spoke in Spanish when they didn’t want the kids to know what they were talking about, and evidently, my grandmother.”
Martinez indicated that the joke was both funny and well-timed.
“It’s all in good fun,” he emphasized. “Playoffs are a very revved up time of the year. If you can get a good laugh in, and keep things light, especially on a non-game day, it can relieve some tension, and it can do good things for the club.”
But he did fire one salvo back at his coach when he found out that Sutter purchased the sombrero at a liquor store earlier in the morning.
“A liquor store at 9:00 in the morning, huh,” said Martinez, who smiled and shrugged before adding, “I didn’t even think they were open then.”
Capitalizing On His Opportunity
Martinez returned to the lineup on May 4, in the Kings’ 1-0 Game 3 win over the Blues, and he made the most of it, contributing an assist on the lone goal in the game by defenseman Slava Voynov after a big scrum in front of the St. Louis net.
“It was mayhem in front, really,” said Martinez. “I was just hacking and whacking. [Forward Trevor Lewis] was in there. Slava was in the fold, and maybe [Dwight] King. Fortunately, it popped out, and Slava was able to find that hole, and put it in there. But I really can’t describe it, because it was absolute chaos.”
“I know I got hammered at the end of it, but I didn’t care, because we scored,” added Martinez.
When the scrum began, Martinez did not hesitate to join the pile-up in front of the St. Louis net, which would usually be too risky of a play for a defenseman.
Not this time.
“I noticed that they had five guys down low,” Martinez explained. “I knew that if a puck squirted out, Slava was either going to be there, or I trust my feet that I can catch a guy who’s standing right next to me. That’s why I made the decision, when I knew it was a battle with everyone in front.”
“I wasn’t really sacrificing much of a defensive position,” he elaborated. “Risk-reward there was pretty good.”
For Martinez, it was his first action since April 2 at Phoenix.
“I thought he played pretty well,” said defenseman Drew Doughty. “He hasn’t been in the lineup for awhile, and to come into a playoff game like that, I thought he handled it pretty well.”
“He moved the puck well, and joined the rush when he could, and he got an assist,” said Doughty. “It was a great job by him.”
Martinez said that he was a bit rusty after the month-long layoff.
“I worked hard to keep myself ready,” he noted. “It’s never easy to do that. A month is a long time. I felt a little rusty, but it’s playoff hockey. Every guy wants to play in these games, and if you’re having a hard time getting up for a playoff game, you’ve got bigger problems.”
“As a professional athlete, you want to play, to get back into the lineup, and contribute.” he added. “Getting the “W” was a lot of fun. Hopefully, we can keep it going [tonight].”
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