AUDIO INTERVIEWS: Includes audio interviews with Los Angeles Kings defenseman Alec Martinez and Willie Mitchell.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — Often times, the hockey gods work in strange, mysterious ways, and for a long time, they were not smiling down upon Los Angeles Kings defenseman Alec Martinez.
Whether it was one of a handful injuries, or falling out of favor with head coach Darryl Sutter, Martinez has been out of the lineup for some fairly lengthy stretches.
During the lockout-abbreviated 2013 season, the 6-1, 209-pound native of Rochester Hills, Michigan played in just 27 out of the Kings’ 48 games, scoring one goal and contributing four assists for five points, while sitting out seven regular games, from February 12 – March 4, 2013.
More importantly, Martinez was on the sidelines for most the 2013 playoffs, appearing in just seven of the Kings’ 18 playoff games (four games vs. St. Louis, two vs. San Jose, and one vs. Chicago).
This season was going much the same way for Martinez, who missed action from October 18 – November 12, 2013, sitting out seven games. He also sat out from December 29, 2013 – January 4, 2014, missing four games, and from January 12 – 16, watching one game in street clothes.
Although being out of the lineup for twelve out of a possible 76 games this season may not seem like a lot, when they are strung together, as two of Martinez’ stints on the sidelines have been this season, and especially during the 2013 playoffs, the time spent as a spectator is significant, and did not bode well for his future with the Kings.
Given that history, what Martinez has done since returning from the Olympic break has been absolutely remarkable, and that may be an understatement.
In the Kings’ 16 games since the break, Martinez has been on fire, scoring seven goals and contributing five assists for twelve points, while playing solid defense in his own zone, earning a +8 plus/minus rating.
Prior to the Olympic break, Martinez had played in 39 games, scoring four goals and adding three assists for seven points, with a +7 plus/minus rating, and ten penalty minutes.
For the season, Martinez now has eleven goals and eight assists for 19 points in 55 games, and because of his standout play since the Olympic break—the Kings are 12-4-0 since February 27 with Martinez back in the lineup—the whispers heard from the Kings dressing room, and among the local media, often include the words, “difference-maker.”
Indeed, Martinez appears to have, at long last, established himself as one of the Kings’ top six defensemen.
“I’m so happy for him,” said veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell, who is currently paired with Martinez on the Kings blue line. “He’s worked hard. He hasn’t been a regular, and he’s kind of earned his spot as a regular. You have to earn that, and he’s earned it, shooting the puck really well.”
“Ten goals is a big number, as a defenseman.” added Mitchell, who spoke to the media on March 30, prior to Martinez scoring his 11th goal of the season during a 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild at Staples Center in Los Angeles on March 31. “A real big number. I think he’s scoring one every five games, and that’s tough to do, as a defenseman. He shoots it, it comes off his stick quickly.”
“I’m really happy for him. He’s added a nice dimension for us with some secondary scoring. He’s had a terrific year. Hopefully, he saves a few more for the right time, down the stretch, and in the playoffs.”
Martinez’ reaction to his recent success was subdued, and that’s putting it mildly.
“I’ve just been trying to get shots through to the net,” he said. “For whatever reason, they’re going in. I think, really, I’ve just been a benefactor of other guys making good plays, and the team playing well. I’m just going to keep shooting the puck. Hopefully, it stays that way.”
Martinez also gave a lot of the credit to Mitchell.
“I think we compliment each other’s talents really well,” said Martinez. “He’s been around for a long time. He’s got a lot of experience, and he’s really good, defensively. He’s got the big body, he blocks shots, and he’s got a really good stick. He just does everything really well. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of making quick decisions, and closing our gaps in the defensive zone.”
“Usually, when he and I are playing at the top of our game, as a pair, we really aren’t playing in our own end very much.” added Martinez. “We’ve done a pretty good job, as of late, at getting the puck out, and getting it into the forward’s hands, letting them go and do their thing. He’s a really good hockey player, and I’m happy to play with him.”
But that was all Martinez was willing to say about his recent play, deflecting the praise to his teammates and refusing to take any credit. In fact, he was rather blunt about the whole thing.
“I don’t like talking about myself very much, as you can see,” he stated, rather flatly.
Makes you wonder if he’s been taking notes from goaltender Jonathan Quick, or vice versa.
Willie Mitchell: Offensive Juggernaut?
In his last six games, Mitchell, who is not known for his offensive skills, has contributed five assists, and even had a two-assist performance in a 4-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets on March 29 at Staples Center.
Mitchell’s last multi-point performance (regular season) came on April 5, 2012, a 6-5 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks at Staples Center, when he contributed three assists.
When asked about his recent contributions on the offensive end, Mitchell just shrugged it off.
“It’s just the ebb and flow of the season,” he said. “To be honest, it’s been a bit of a challenging season for myself, coming off two knee surgeries, and then, not playing for 17 months. I didn’t feel good about my game, and sometimes, you can chase it, too. You can try too hard.”
“You want to show your teammates, show the coaches, and show everyone that I’m back, I’m fine, and all that,” he added. “But sometimes, when you do that, sometimes you chase it. You don’t play your game.”
“After Christmas, there were four or five games where I didn’t feel like I had my game, but after [that], I’ve felt like it’s more my game, and I’m having fun with [Martinez]. We have some real nice chemistry out there. He skates the puck well. He’s a good puck mover. I just try to take care of the reads, defensively, and cover a lot of ice. We’ve been playing well together, and I’m enjoying that.”
Mitchell downplayed his offensive contributions even further, revealing the most important reason behind it.
“I went horseback riding, and the guy gave me a horseshoe,” he noted. “Got it sitting upright at the house, so it’s supposed to catch all that luck.”
Can’t hurt, right?
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Alec Martinez (4:07)
Willie Mitchell (7:33)
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