Martin signs with Devils

Brian Stensaas

It’s something that has been as common at Mariucci Arena as the pungent odor of the Minnesota men’s hockey locker room the past three seasons: Paul Martin’s Elk River “Elks” stocking cap.

Whether in a suit or sweats, glasses or contacts, Docs or flip-flops, Martin rarely was seen without the knit garb on top of his wispy blond-haired head. If the NCAA allowed it, Martin likely would have worn the thing on the ice.

Perhaps the NHL will.

Late Thursday, the junior defenseman forfeited his final season with the Gophers by signing a contract with the New Jersey Devils.

The signing came in the same week that Buffalo Sabres officials said its top pick in this year’s draft, Minnesota sophomore forward Thomas Vanek, will return to the Gophers.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Devils drafted Martin in the second round of the 2000 draft. He was the first high school player selected in that year’s draft.

Martin pined over the decision to turn professional for nearly two months.

“I wouldn’t wish making a decision like this on anyone,” Martin said Saturday from Brainerd. “When it all came down, though, I had to do what was best for my future. And it ultimately was too tough to say ‘no’ to New Jersey.”

Martin will join teammate Matt DeMarchi in the Devils’ system. DeMarchi was signed by the team last month following his senior season at Minnesota.

Gophers coach Don Lucia received word of Martin’s signing Thursday afternoon. He was not overly shocked at the news.

“Paul and I talked a lot throughout the summer,” Lucia said Friday afternoon. “I tried to give him as much space as I could because I wanted it to be his decision.

“For as disappointed as we are that he’s not coming back, we’re happy for him that he’s getting a chance at the next level.”

Lucia said that after Minnesota won its second consecutive national title last April, he had a feeling New Jersey might offer Martin a decent contract.

Now, the two-time defending champions will try for a three-peat minus its second team All-America defenseman. It is not too late to bring someone in on Martin’s scholarship, but the team will not do so. Rather, Lucia said, he “get(s) to play Santa Claus” with the money and will reward more aid to players with partial scholarships.

Potter wins gold

Minnesota men’s track and field junior Mitch Potter won the gold medal in the 400 meters Friday at the Pan American Games. Potter won in a time of 45.11 seconds to finish ahead of Cuba’s Yerman Lopez (45.13) and Grenada’s Alleyne Francique (45.51). Gophers runner Adam Steele finished fourth.