The weather was hot and steamy outside, but inside the old gym at the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway in Lawrence the summer home of Hillel Day Camp it felt like a February night as New York Islander Matt Martin visited on Monday.
Known as a hard-hitting left winger, the Canadian born Martin, 26, was soft spoken and easy going as he talked about his hockey career to multiple groups of campers ranging from second- to eighth-graders.
“We started a [floor] hockey program to add to our already intensive sports program, so we thought meeting a hockey player would be good for the kids,” said Camp Director Ari Solomon.
Campers peppered Martin with questions that he answered as easy as tossing pucks into an empty net. He told the campers he began playing hockey at 2 years old; he was drafted at 18, and then made his National Hockey League debut in 2009. “It was a lot of hard work along the way,” he said. “I had the support of family and friends.”
Martin has played five seasons for the Islanders, wears No. 17 in honor of his parents’ birthdays, tallied a pair of assists in his first NHL game and in the past four years has won the Isles’ Bobby Nystrom Award for leadership, hustle and dedication.
The first groups of kids to meet Martin, all second-graders, were very excited. “He’s a real hockey player,” said Jordan Kirschner, 7. “I was happy to meet a real professional hockey player; I am glad he camp to the camp,” said Ben Renick, 7. Shay Karhu, 6, said he learned: “That you have to be good to your teammates.” “When you are a player you shouldn’t injure somebody,” said Max Parkoff, 7. Ami Bendelstein, 7, said he is a “big Islander fan.” “It was my dream come true to meet a hockey player,” he said. “It’s so amazing.”
Floor hockey may be a long way from pro ice hockey, but the fundamentals are similar. “I want them to learn how to play and understand the game,” said Avi Herschman who runs Hillel’s hockey program. The West Hempstead resident played for and coaches at Rambam Mesivta High School in Lawrence.