Editor's Note: Throughout the 2014-15 NHL season, USA Hockey Magazine will periodically highlight American-born players through various Q&A segments.
Paul Martin is a slick-skating offensive defenseman who quietly goes about his business on and off the ice as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins. A native of Elk River, Minn., Martin played three years of college hockey at the University of Minnesota (2000-03), tallying 20 goals and 77 assists in 127 games. Now in his 11th NHL season, Martin continues to anchor the Penguins blueline crew while chipping in with the timely goal or key assist.
When did you first start playing organized hockey in Minnesota? How were you introduced to the sport? I was skating on the pond behind our neighbors the Gustafsons’ house about when mini-Mites would have started. My parents and uncles made sure I had a pair of skates.
How important was playing outdoors – whether on a local outdoor rink or a pond – to your development?
When you’re young, it’s for pure enjoyment. Looking back, I realize just how much time we spent out there. More often than not, we were forced off the rinks by darkness or parents. It definitely helped develop my skills as a hockey player.
You were a three-sport star in high school. How did playing multiple sports help you become a better hockey player?
In general, I think it just made me an all-around better athlete. Playing sports such as football, basketball and baseball contributed to quickness, agility and hand-eye coordination among many others.
When did you finally realize you wanted to commit to hockey full time? What was it about the sport that appealed to you?
At a certain point in high school, a scholarship to play hockey made it my main focus. I would have continued to play both football and hockey in college, but it would have just been too time consuming.
Which one or two players did you look up to in the NHL when you were a young kid? Anyone in particular you tried to model your game after? What was it about their game that you liked so much?
Growing up in Elk River, it was the home of Joel Otto. So I had his stick on my wall. Being a huge North Stars fan I also liked Mike Modano. Defensively, I enjoyed watching Phil Housley, and was a huge Brian Leetch fan.
What made attending the University of Minnesota a more attractive option versus an alternative route?
I grew up watching the Gophers with my family and relatives at my grandparents’ house, so it was a pretty easy decision for me.
You played three seasons at the University of Minnesota (2000-03) and won two national titles. What do you remember most from those years playing college hockey?
The teams that we had and the success led to some of the best friendships I have to this day. It was an incredible experience being able to win the first one in our home state and to win back-to-back was special.
How much have small-area games been incorporated into your practices at both the collegiate and professional level? What types of skills have you taken away from those situations?
There are always a couple drills in a practice, whether games or drills, that take place in small areas. As players move up in levels everything happens that much faster. So, to be able to make moves and decisions quickly obviously helps.
What is the coolest perk about playing in the NHL?
Being able to do something I’ve enjoyed since I could skate. Remembering how fortunate I am to be playing with the best hockey players in the world. Traveling can be fun, too.
Playing in Pittsburgh you get to see the growth of the game in the Steel City. What is going on there that is helping to develop so many kids to play at the next level?
Well, I think the success of the team and the new ownership with the new stadium has created excitement. Having Sidney Crosby doesn’t hurt either to bring kids in.
At some point, there will be a life after hockey for every professional — any thoughts as to what you’d like to do 10-15 years down the road? Coach? Broadcast booth? Business?
I would enjoy being able to coach and teach some aspect.