Colorado Rubber

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Norwegian talent Martinsen finding niche in Avalanche lineup

 

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Colorado Avalanche rookie Andreas Martinsen and Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers are the NHL’s only players from Norway and on Dec. 2 in New York, the Scandanavian country south of Sweden was gearing up to watch them share the ice at Madison Square Garden.

Avalanche coach Patrick Roy, however, squashed the Norwegian event by scratching Martinsen, who had played in 11 consecutive games since being called up from the minors Nov. 9. Martinsen sat while forwards John Mitchell and Alex Tanguay returned from injuries.

“Maybe it was more disappointing for everyone in Norway and the hockey fans back there, but for me, it was just another game,” Martinsen said. “To be scratched, that’s not what you want. You want to be out there. But I got some good feedback from the coaches and I stayed patient. Now I’m back in.”

After the game in New York, Martinsen, 25, was also scratched in the ensuing game at Minnesota. But the left winger was back in the lineup the next game, against the Wild in Denver, and is playing what amounts to third-line minutes.

On Nov. 21 at Washington, Martinsen became just the fifth Norwegian-born player to score a goal in the NHL. It was, ahem, ugly, but when Martinsen is older and the only hockey he is playing is in his head, he will tell a different story about how it unfolded.

“Dangled a couple guys and went top cheese, probably,” he said.

To decipher: He used elite puck-handling skills to skate around two defensemen and lifted the puck high over the goalie’s shoulders into the net’s ceiling. Allegedly.

What really happened was defenseman Zach Redmond shot the puck off Martinsen’s back-side and it caromed in. It was puck luck at its finest.

Roy almost gushes about what he likes about the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Martinsen.

“Puck protection, size, speed – everything,” Roy said.

Martinsen is eighth Norwegian all-time to play in the NHL, and third for the Avs. Defenseman Jonas Holos played 39 games for the Avalanche in 2010-11. Defenseman Anders Myrvold played four games with Colorado in 1995-96. The best of Norway is Zuccarello, who is currently a key forward for the Rangers.

“Back home, hockey is growing, especially with the way Zuccarello is playing — one of the best players in the league for the moment,” Martinsen said. “Hockey is getting more and more attention and now there’s two guys over here. It’s a big thing for the whole country, hockey-wise, and I think it’s really creating more interest. So yeah, there’s been a lot of messages, a lot of phone calls. People are excited and happy for me.”

Colorado signed Martinsen as an undrafted free agent on May 15. He had been playing for Dusseldorfer in a German pro league and had 18 goals last season. He has represented Norway in the past four World Championships and began the season in the American Hockey League.

Martinsen began playing hockey at age eight, but the day he started, it wasn’t on the schedule.

“Growing up in Norway, I was playing soccer – that was the big thing,” he said. “I went to a (hockey) practice when my sister was going to start playing and coach asked me if I wanted to try and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll give it a shot.’ She quit after a year and I kept playing. I picked it up pretty quick and fell in love with the game. After that, it was all I wanted to do.”

And after not making the 2014 Norwegian Olympic team, Martinsen further used that as motivation.

“I had been on the national team for three or four years and playing in Germany and doing well,” remembered Martinsen. “For some reason, I didn’t make the team. I was very disappointed and mad. I didn’t get a reason. But I just told myself, ‘I’m going to show this guy.’ Now I’m here.”

Photo/Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

— Mike Chambers