Martinez back to normal as he approaches 700th career game

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez is two games shy of playing in the 700th game of his career.

It’ll be quite an accomplishment considering he thought his 671st game would be his last.

Nov. 11 will mark one year since Martinez’s face was slashed by Minnesota forward Brandon Duhaime’s skate, an injury that kept him out of Vegas’ lineup for more than four months.

“In the darkest days, I would say that I was worried that it was career-ending,” Martinez said during an interview with The Associated Press. “Fortunately, I was able to find some doctors that were able to figure me out and give me some medication, or a combination of medications, that would kind of get my nervous system to calm down.”

The 35-year-old two-time Stanley Cup champion, who should reach the 700-game milestone Tuesday in Toronto, is still hesitant to discuss the injury that left a roughly two-inch scar under his left eye, partly because he doesn’t want attention, and also because it’s difficult to talk about without reliving the trauma.

Martinez said he was frustrated and disappointed by having to miss 53 games because of what he calls a “flukey thing.” But, there was also dealing with meeting with different doctors who worked to determine how to fix the nerve damage.

And then there was the mental hurdle he needed to get over.

“You wouldn’t have really expected what he went through, somebody to go through from an injury because ... he couldn’t even really live with it,” Golden Knights forward Chandler Stephenson said.

While Knights captain Mark Stone was enduring his own painful nerve injury that required a lumbar discectomy on May 19, and the two experienced the same type of frustration in missing ice time, seeing his teammate suffer put things in perspective.

“None of us have ever been through anything like that,” Stone said. “One of the nastiest things I’ve seen so far in pro hockey. But like I said, it’s just perseverance and dedication to the game, wanting to continue to play the game and ultimately he had a lot of support in his corner from different people, especially with his family, wanting him to continue playing.”

Martinez did eventually play the final 15 games for Vegas last season, but it wasn’t easy. The first half was a grind. And though he said he started feeling more like himself the latter half, the medications he was on were physically inhibiting.

“I never anticipated just a slice could create what it created,” Martinez said. “I’m fortunate to have the doctors, and again I’m appreciative of the organization and trainers and all the efforts that they went for me to see the right neurologists, the right neurosurgeons to kind of help me get figured out. And not even playing hockey again, but just living a normal life.”

Normal, which takes us to Ottawa, where Martinez registered three blocked shots in Thursday’s 5-4 victory over the Senators, bringing him to a league-leading 54 in 12 games this season. His average of 13.74 blocked shots per game leads the league.

It’s certainly back to normal for Martinez, whose style of play led his teammates to nickname him “Warrior” long before Duhaime’s blade gashed his face.

Considering the comeback he’s made, and playing like the player who ranks fourth in the league with 1,214 blocked shots since 2014, that nickname has taken on a new meaning as he approaches his 700th career game.

“He went through a really tough injury where you think you’re getting better and you’re not and it’s tough mentally when you don’t really have a timeline of when everything is going to be better,” teammate Reilly Smith said. “He battled through that and been through a lot of frustration through that. For him to come back this year and be playing great for us and kind of step into that role that we expect from him, it’s been awesome, it’s been good to see.”


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W.g. Ramirez, The Associated Press