EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — Matt Martin’s 900th career game in a nice feather to put in his cap, but for now, it’s nothing more than that.
“You try to live in the moment as much as possible, whether it be good games or bad games,” the New York Islanders veteran winger said on Tuesday before taking the ice for his milestone night against the Arizona Coyotes at UBS Arena. “Just focus day-to-day on what you need to do. Nine hundred is obviously a big number and an achievement, but hopefully, a couple days later, I’ll play 901. So it’s not something I’m too focused on at the end of the day.”
The cliche of “taking it one game at a time,” — which the 34-year-old even admitted it was — wasn’t always the foundation of his philosophy when he broke into the NHL 13 seasons ago as a bruising enforcer with the Islanders. His game has refined since then — he tied a career-high at age 33 with 19 points last season — though he still is an invaluable piece on New York’s physical, identity-securing fourth line alongside Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas. It’s a trio that has been inseparable since 2013 minus the two seasons Martin spent in Toronto with the Maple Leafs.
“I’d imagine when I was younger, I carried the weight of one game or would get a little too excited over one game at times,” Martin said. “As you progress, everything’s a learning experience in life. It’s a long season. You can’t get too high, you can’t get too low. It’s cliche but you try to stay even-keel and continue to do the right thing.
“I think for the last five, six years I’ve done a pretty good job of that.”
Call it cliche, call it played out, but Martin’s mindset is a necessity given the territory that comes with being a professional athlete in an age where every move, every play, and every comment is parsed through and dissected — all while wrestling with the ever-lingering prospect of his job constantly being put under the microscope.
“There’s so much adversity and stress that you go through in a season that you have to be able to move on from some things,” Martin said. “And at times, even humble yourself when things are going a little too well. Understand it’s a process, the way you approach everything every day is going to give you the best opportunity to have success as a team.
“You can’t take anything for granted. I don’t know the exact number, but there are 700-and-something jobs in this league and people are getting drafted every year. A lot of people want your position. At the end of the day, they have a job to do upstairs and they have to put the best team that they possibly can on the ice. Changes will be made. We’re constantly as athletes fighting for our jobs. That’s what we want. We’re competitors.”
There will come a day when the competition stops. Father Time is undefeated, after all. It might be then when Martin will be able to truly revel in the career he’s been able to carve out for himself, especially one that features the role he’s undertaken for nearly a decade and a half.
But through all that, there still are seconds of gratitude to steal.
“I’m certainly appreciative of it all and obviously very blessed and grateful for not only the opportunity to play in the NHL but how long I’ve been with this team,” Martin said. “I got married here, I settled my life down here, I had two kids that are going to grow up in this community. I’m surrounded by things I appreciate.”