Martinook’s ‘grit, perserverence’ make him Hurricanes’ nominee for Masterton Trophy

The veteran forward overcame injuries and waivers to put together a career year

Hurricanes forward Jordan Martinook was chosen as a nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy by the Carolina chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. (Jeffrey T. Barnes / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — The lead-up to the start of the 2022-23 NHL season came with uncertainty for Jordan Martinook.

With Max Pacioretty headed to long-term injured reserve after rupturing his Achilles tendon, the Hurricanes needed to maximize their salary cap space before the start of the season. To best do that, they needed to put a player on a one-way contract on waivers.

While Carolina was ready to move on from defenseman Ethan Bear, the team didn’t want to put him on waivers and lose him for nothing. The choice was Martinook because the Hurricanes’ front office felt confident he would not be claimed.

That didn’t make the wait any easier for the 30-year-old.

“That hit me like a ton of bricks, and it was hard,” Martinook said on Tuesday. “That 24 hours was probably one of the more stressful times of my life, just not knowing. OK, say somehow you do get picked up, you’ve got to move your family and do all that stuff. And I’m just happy that I got to stay and I got to show what I did this summer and that I can still be a good player. I think I’ve done that this year.”

All of that, and what has happened since, led Martinook to be chosen by the Carolina chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association to be this season’s nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.

One player from each of the 32 NHL teams is nominated by their local PHWA chapter, with the criteria being that the player “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

“I think it’s character, grit, and he embodies that,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said of Martinook being nominated. “A guy that’s gonna play through injuries. A guy that has been banged up and just keeps coming back. Perseverance, I think that’s all what it’s kind of about.”

Martinook has done all of that in several different ways during his career, and his 2022-23 season in particular has embodied what the Masterton recognizes.

He has put together a career year in his ninth NHL season, posting a career high in points while filling the role vacated by Nino Niederreiter on Carolina’s shutdown line with Jordan Staal and Jesper Fast.

He’s also been one of Brind’Amour’s most relied-upon players for the Hurricanes’ second-ranked penalty kill. Martinook’s played more than two minutes a night shorthanded and totaled 163:31 on the penalty kill entering Thursday’s regular season finale — the 28th most of any forward in the NHL.

Martinook has made a career out of playing through pain, as he did in the 2019 playoffs when he described his “lower-body injury” as having “ripped my groin off my pubic bone.”

“A couple times I went home after games, I was in my closet and I was crying,” he said. “My wife was rubbing my back and she’s like, ‘Why do you keep doing this?’ And I was like, ‘Why? I don’t know how many chances you get at this.’

“I’ll play through anything if they let me.”

Injuries continued to mount for Martinook over the next three seasons, limiting him to 148 games and just 41 total points.

“(My wife’s) seen me in some pretty dark times over the last few years,” he said. “I felt like over the course of the last three years, I just get going, I just get my feet going, I feel like I just start playing good hockey, and then something would happen. Then you’re rehabbing, working your way back, trying to get back in feeling good again.”

Martinook credited his offseason work last summer in returning him to health. He is one of six Hurricanes who will play in all 82 games this season.

“It was my first full offseason with a new trainer, and I felt like he was pretty hard on me, held me accountable on days where I’m like, “Eh, I don’t really want to get on the bike,’” Martinook said. “And he’d be like, ‘You’re getting on that bike, and you’re gonna do one extra now that you did that.’ And so I owe a lot to him and am pretty thankful that I went with him.”

That led to him feeling ready to turn the page on his past injuries when he returned to Raleigh ahead of training camp.

“I had a healthy summer. I put in a ton of work,” he said. “I knew that this was a big summer for me, and then coming into camp I felt so good and just was proud of myself of where I put myself.”

Brind’Amour said that makes all the difference when playing at this level.

“it’s tough,” Brind’Amour said. “This is the NHL, and when you’re banged up and try to play against all these guys and be effective, it’s just hard. And you can see he’s had much more. His step has been quicker. He’s just been able to get the pucks a lot quicker, and I think that’s because he’s feeling good.”

While Martinook’s numbers have returned to, and exceeded, what was expected of him after Carolina acquired him in 2018, his role in the locker room as a leader and motivator has always been key in returning the franchise to prominence.

Whether that has been taking young players under his wing as he did with Andrei Svechnikov in his first few seasons, being the most vocal of his teammates, striking up a friendship with a young fan with Down syndrome, standing in front of the media following a loss, or serving as Brind’Amour’s go-to catalyst for struggling teammates, Martinook has proven worthy of the “A” he wears on his jersey.

Furthermore, he’s embraced Raleigh and the Hurricanes’ fans, who he has always cited as an inspiration for the team.

“The Caniacs come big-time this time of year,” he said with a wide grin of the looming playoffs.

The feeling hasn’t always been mutual. When Martinook went on waivers at the end of training camp, it wasn’t hard to find people on social media commenting that they hoped he would be claimed or assigned to the American Hockey League.

Those 24 hours were some of the toughest of Martinook’s career, but he survived them and, as Brind’Amour promised, was in the lineup on opening night.

He’s spent the rest of the season proving the doubters wrong.

“I feel like I’ve almost been a weight sometimes, and you never want to feel like that,” he said of the past few years. “It’s been really refreshing and just good to feel this way again.”

Most importantly, he’s proven he could return to the level he expected of himself.

“If my son looks back in 20 years and gets to see how his dad’s career went, I think he’d be pretty proud of me,” he said. “And that’s something that I can hang my hat on.”