Paul Martin returns to Gophers men’s hockey as undergraduate assistant

Paul Martin won two national championships with the Gophers on the ice. Now, he looks to lead Minnesota back to national championship heights on staff as an undergraduate assistant.

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Kamaan Richards

Gophers Forward Ben Meyers chases the puck in the 3M Arena on Friday, Oct. 25. The Gophers went on to lose 2-5 to the University of Minnesota – Duluth.

Julianna Landis, Sports Reporter

Sixteen years removed from the last time he was in a Gophers’ sweater, Paul Martin has something in common with the players on this year’s roster: They’re all balancing hockey on top of a full course load.

A star on the Gophers’ blue line in the early 2000s, Martin left Minnesota three years into his college career to make the jump to the NHL. Martin officially retired in 2018, when the remainder of his last contract was bought out by the San Jose Sharks. Earlier this season, the team announced Martin would be returning to the team as an undergraduate assistant to finish his degree.

Martin is completing a multidisciplinary studies degree, a program in the College of Continuing and Professional Studies that allows students to combine their past credits with courses of their choosing to design a major that works for them. Leaving school when he did was a difficult decision, and part of his motivation to come back was because of a promise he had made to his mother. His time away from the game also helped him to reflect on what he wanted to do in the next chapter of his life.

“I think it was a tough time for me to leave the University after my junior year; we had just won two national championships, and I really enjoyed my experience and loved the guys, especially our class,” Martin said. “Part of the promise was to come back to school and get my degree … for mom, but over time I think it was more important to come back for me as well.”

“The time away from hockey after I retired was a good transition phase for me to really figure out what I wanted to do in the next chapter of my life. … To take advantage of the program that they had to offer here and work with [Bob] Motzko and these guys was kind of a no-brainer for me, especially if coaching is something I want to do in the future.”

Martin’s NHL resume and the longevity of his professional career brings a wealth of experience to the team, and Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko said having him on staff to help guide a young defensive core is an exciting opportunity for the Gophers. Typical team meetings have been more difficult to set up with new COVID-19 guidelines, but Motzko is still looking forward to having Martin available as a sounding board for the team and having the team’s young defensemen learn from him.

Having Martin back in the organization is also something of a full-circle moment for both him and Motzko, who was hired as an assistant coach with the Gophers during Martin’s sophomore year. Looking back on his first few weeks on the job, Motzko said while initially he was underwhelmed with what he saw from Martin on the ice, he was quickly proven wrong.

“It was either the second or third practice, and I come in and I go, ‘I don’t see it.’ Because Paul is a very reserved, laid-back guy,” Motzko said. “And about a month later I saw it: He was as special as any player I’ve ever been around and completely controlled the game with his brain and his athleticism.”

The college game has changed since Martin’s day, and it looks especially different on the back end. From what he saw at the beginning of the team’s practices, Martin said the defensemen overall looked promising.

“I like the way that they skate. They all move the puck well, especially the younger defensemen coming in — a lot of promise there. I feel like the older guys that have been around have been very open to me and able to communicate what they’re all about,” Martin said. “So I’m just kind of excited to be here right now in that feeling-out process and am looking forward to spending more time with them as the weeks go on.”