It took Hall of Fame goalies for me to really understand and appreciate Seth Martin’s impact on hockey.
And it took an appreciation of human nature for me to understand Seth Martin’s impact on people.
It’s a fair argument to say few people in the Home of Champions brought more recognition to the Silver City than “The Masked Marvel.”
Mention the Rossland native’s name to anyone familiar with hockey through the 1960s and 1970s and the superlatives start flowing. He was a game changer, an innovator, a motivator, a winner and a champion.
When chronicling the history of local sports, Seth’s name ranks up with the immortals like Nancy Greene, Mike Bukna, Jimmy Morris, Andy Bilesky and Willi Krause.
I’ve sat in media rooms at NHL games and when a Montreal Canadiens scout heard I was from Trail, his first words were, “I remember the Trail Smokers and their great goaltender, Seth Martin.”
He couldn’t remember the exact name of the team but he certainly remembered Seth.
The Russians knew his name well. They were so enamored with Martin that they had their young goaltenders, including the legendary Vladislav Tretiak, emulate his style.
Even in the lead up to the Summit Series in 1972, the historic meeting between NHLers and Russians, one of the first questions Andrei Starovoitov, the No. 2 hockey man in the Soviet Union, asked a Montreal Star reporter was “Seth Martin, is he on your team?”
The question came even though Martin had already retired from his short stint in the NHL.
They said “No, but Ken Dryden is.”
Starovoitov replied, “Is he as good as Martin?”
More on Dryden later but that’s how revered Seth was on the international stage.
“Seth Martin is a name, when I go overseas, to a lot of Europeans Seth ranks with Tretiak. I don’t say that lightly,” Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson told me during his visit to Trail to honour the world champion Smoke Eater teams in 2006.
When Dryden, yet another Hall of Fame goaltender, was on a political pitch for the Liberal Party he visited Trail and proved great goaltenders are all familiar with each other.
“Everybody followed the Smoke Eaters,” he told the Times’ Ray Masleck. “Seth was a household name to us.”
There’s no questioning Seth’s impact on the world of hockey but it went beyond a simple sport to many people.
He still got letters from fans around the world, decades after he competed, and he took the time to answer each one and include a picture of the mural on the Trail Memorial Centre.
It came as no surprise really that during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, I was invited to sit down with Seth and his beloved Bev while they hosted a father and son from Sweden. If there was one thing the man from Sweden wanted to do while in Canada it was to come to Trail and introduce his son to the ‘greatest goaltender in the world.”
It was a father-son moment, a fan moment and a gracious-host moment all rolled into one. Imagine any other sport where you could travel halfway around the world, sit at the home of a legendary talent and simply enjoy coffee and pose for a group picture. Just try showing up at Michael Jordan’s house and see what happens.
One of my first awestruck moments regarding Seth’s hockey legacy came during the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League All Star Game banquet held in Trail in the early ‘90s.
I was just getting my feet wet at the Trail Times and I had a chance to interview one of hockey’s all time greats, Glenn Hall, who was one of the guest speakers that night and played with Seth during the expansion year of the St. Louis Blues.
As a child of the Original Six NHL, I knew I was talking to one of the game’s legends when I met Hall, but all he wanted to do was tell me what a great goaltender Seth Martin was.
Seth, in his usual manner, chuckled and deflected the praise right back to Hall and they rallied compliments back and forth like two tennis players. I was caught in the middle like a fan at Wimbledon.
Fast forward about 10 years and a band of retired NHL stars were at the Cominco Arena playing against a local group of players.
Prior to the start of the game, I stood outside the dressing room while players such as Mark Napier and Tiger Williams walked by and Bobby Hull signed autographs. I tried to ask Bower about his collection of stars but all he wanted to know was if Seth Martin was in the rink.
I never had the pleasure of watching Seth in action but I certainly had the pleasure of knowing him. And that’s where he still shined.
Here was a man feted around the world, a charter member of the International Hockey Hall of Fame, he reached the Stanley Cup final and there was a 40-foot mural on the side of the rink with his picture on the pinnacle of it, but he still took time to ask me about my daughter, my job, my thoughts on anything from hockey to hamburgers.
Perhaps because I never had to interview him after a tough loss or in the midst of a losing streak, I never saw anything but a soft side to Seth.
He was humble to a fault. He had no swagger to tell you this man was one of the best in the world at what he did. He preferred to talk about you rather than himself and always had a hardy laugh at my weakest jokes.
When I left the role as sports editor at the Times and moved into the editor’s chair, I was full of trepidation that I perhaps bit off more than I could chew.
But I had a lot of well wishers and a handful of congratulatory cards.
Bev and Seth penned one I still have in my office. It was a small token but one I never forgot and still cherish. Oddly enough the ink from the note in that card faded in a few years but I can still decipher who wrote it and what they meant.
That might well sum up Seth Martin. His achievements may have been years ago but his impact remains.
I am honoured to call Seth Martin more than just a hockey star from the Kootenays. He was also a good person and a friend.
His smiling face will be missed by many.