Today, we’re proud to host Steve Martinson, the star coach of the Allen Americans, here on BubbleLife. As the hockey season picks up and the first home game approaches this weekend, we wanted to hear a little bit about Martinson’s role as a coach and the struggles, joys and changes he faces during the season.
Read more to learn about the coach’s life and history, as well as fun facts like his favorite guilty pleasure at the Allen Event Center’s concession stand.
1. Where did your love for hockey first begin? Fill us in a little on your background, both as a player and a coach.
When you grow up in Minnesota, hockey starts early. I began skating on teams at age 5. My dad flooded our backyard basketball court so we could skate every day. I graduated to daily treks to the Gro Tonka outdoor rink where I spent countless hours playing hockey.
Making the NCAA Senior All Star game led to a tryout with the Minnesota North Stars. I retired after 12 years of pro hockey and became a financial consultant for Smith Barney. A financial meeting led to a coaching opportunity, and I'm still at it 23 years after.
2. Can you tell us a bit about the average day in the life of a hockey coach?
An average practice day is looking at the lineup, who’s healthy, who’s not. How they played in the previous game, if you’re going to change any combinations. What do we need to work on, power play, penalty kill, and the neutral zone. Dividing up practice strategies, like a lot of skating at the start of the week and less before game days.
You’re always looking at available players to improve your roster. I frequently check in with our affiliate (Minnesota/Iowa Wild) to see if we are going to gain or lose players. I really focus every day on strategizing the week based on previous games and the roster.
3. What is the team’s offseason routine? How does it differ during pre-season and the season itself?
My offseason is really spent on recruiting. It is the combination of scouting and cross-referencing, and getting the right mix of players. A lot of players go home and go to work and then they train. More off-ice strength training than skating and some long distance running. Early in the offseason, most guys are resting and recuperating.
During the season, it is completely different. During the offseason, you’re trying to pick the team and get players conditioned. It is night and day from the offseason to the season.
4. What are some of the challenges you anticipate to face during this season? How will you address them?
We tried to address the loss of players to non-affiliates last year by being a little more selective in who we signed. It is a challenge not having as many experienced guys looking to play in the AHL. We had some off ice issues and trimmed some of those players out of the roster. We also asked some other players to change things in their personal lives to help them be a better player.
Challenges are any obstacles that get in the way of winning, like injuries and call-ups. You just try to keep your players healthy and then have good team chemistry. You want everyone to buy in and have the same work ethic.
You are dealing with players’ personal expectations. They want to perform well for obvious reasons. There are challenges within the game of competing for ice time, power play time. Managing egos and keeping everyone engaged by making them feel like they are an important player on the team. But that is not something that is always true, some are counted on to do more and have more expectations, but you don’t want the other players to feel slighted because expectations are different.
It is important to keep good chemistry and have everyone buy in. We have to create that environment. It’s a challenge to make everyone feel important and needed. Some guys need a little more attention than others.
In Allen, we like to have three lines that can score. In some other places, the third line isn’t expected to do anything other than be a checking line. You can’t have three power play lines so it is hard, but it is great for team competition. I tell guys that if they are rolling or their lines are playing well, they are going to get opportunities and power play time.
5. What makes the Allen Americans a great team to coach?
They are like any team: when you get the right group together, they are fun to coach. When we get it right, it is a team that snowballs and is easier to coach because they get on autopilot and all we have to do is tweak it.
It helps to have a winning culture that can be self-motivating to the players. Guys come to Allen because of our success and understand the expectations are high. Plus, it is a great place to live.
6. In your opinion, what are the most important skills a player needs to have in order to excel? What about a coach?
Players have got to have drive. I always say that we want guys who will work hard, be in shape, and be team guys who play within the system and finish their checks. The higher your skill level, that creates a glue environment. The higher the skill level of the glue guys, the better the team you have. Drive, athleticism and a good hockey IQ.
As a coach, at our level, you’ve got to be able to have a plan. Even if you have to adjust it, you need to have a plan. You’ve got to be able to adjust and multitask and be forgiving.
7. How do you balance being a supportive team leader while also challenging your players to grow and improve?
Any good athlete wants to get better, and that is one thing that we talk about is getting better every day. So you’ve got to come with the right attitude and practice. Not just getting through, but actively working on getting better. It is like lifting weights. The idea is that after a month you will notice you’re better, you are stronger, and that is not something you will notice the next day. You hope the player is improving both individually and as a teammate.
8. What’s the best way for fans to support the team?
Buy a ticket! The best way is to buy a ticket and come down and enjoy watching the game. Cheer on the team and give us a home ice advantage.
9. What is your favorite part of the season and the games?
My favorite part of the season is the playoffs and my favorite part of the game is winning. Ultimately, it is winning, but just trying to have your team prepared for a game plan and then executing. A lot of people get caught up in that they didn’t follow the game plan, but the reality is players weren’t disciplined. You feel really good about it when you see players playing at the level that they are capable of. It is frustrating to see to players play under your expectation. You get satisfaction, not just out of winning, but from seeing players improve and play at their A game.
10. Be honest: what’s your favorite concession food to buy at the games?
The Marty Dog. Try it!
Don’t forget to grab tickets for the first Allen American home game on Saturday, Oct. 20. The ice will be dyed pink in support of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so it’s sure to be a game you won’t forget.
Article sponsored by the Allen Americans Hockey Club