Matt Martin (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Now in his fifth NHL season, one Islander has earned a reputation as an intense, blue-collar winger who throws as many punches as he does bodychecks. But when he’s not playing, he is anything but high-strung.To watch Matt Martin play hockey is to watch a human bumper car. Now in his fifth season with the New York Islanders, Martin, 25, has earned a reputation as an intense, blue-collar left winger who throws as many punches (447 penalty minutes in 280 games prior to this season) as he does bodychecks (he’s led the NHL in hits three times). But when he’s not playing, he is anything but high-strung. You’re more likely to find him reading or working on a crossword puzzle than trying to knock someone into next week. “Away from the ice, I’m never stressed about anything,” Martin said. “I try and take it all in stride.”
The Windsor, Ont., native reads on plane rides and prefers completing a book before seeing the TV show or movie it’s based on. He’s finished The Hunger Games, and he’s checking out Season 1 of Game of Thrones after reading the first book in the series (Khaleesi and Arya Stark are his favorite characters).He’s one of several Isles who compete to see who can be first each day to complete the USA Today crossword, and he enjoys friendly teasing with teammate, occasional linemate and close friend Casey Cizikas. He jokes Cizikas has stubby legs. Cizikas tells Martin he has bony knees and elbows. “Off the ice, he’s laughing all the time, smiling all the time,” Cizikas said. “That’s not a side of him people get to see very often.” Martin also devotes much of his free time to charitable endeavors. He’s a staunch backer of military non-profit group Defending the Blue Line and works in support of a cure for cystic fibrosis, a disease that’s struck someone close to him: Gunnar Esiason, the brother of his girlfriend, Sydney Esiason (who’s the daughter of NFL legend Boomer Esiason). “Gunnar has opened my eyes so much,” Martin said. “He struggles with CF but never complains about anything and appreciates everything he has. I’ve learned a lot from him.” As one of the longer-serving Islanders, Martin has seen challenging times. But being part of the group that’s come strongly out of the gate this year is sweeter for him because of the bond that’s developed within the organization’s young core. “We’re glad to get off to a good start, but we’re not satisfied with where we are, and we know we can play better,” he said. “But it is a nice feeling coming to the rink this year.” This feature appeared in the Dec. 8 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.