Center Steve Martins was just 26 when he helped the Chicago Wolves capture their first championship, the Turner Cup, in 1998. Ten years and 239 National Hockey League games later, he did it again as a 36-year-old father of two, helping the team capture the 2008 Calder Cup.
Martins treasures the memories of each championship run, and of the 262 games he played for the Wolves over parts of five seasons, but there is one memory that always will stand out as particularly special.
“Winning the Calder Cup in 2008 and having my kids be a part of it,” he said without hesitation. “From all my hockey years, I would say, other than playing my first NHL game, that was probably the most special moment; being able to share that with my family.
“It’s hard to explain, but having Isabelle and Isac on the ice, and seeing their smiles and their faces and them playing with the confetti – even if they maybe didn’t know exactly what was going on – and sharing it with my wife, who had been with the Wolves for quite a long time as well. That moment was at the end of my career, the year before I stopped playing, and it was just a great team and a great experience.”
Martins bookended his successful hockey career with stints in Chicago, appearing first with the team in his third professional season in 1997-98, and again from 2006 to 2009. He bore witness to many of the changes the organization went through over the years, which includes shifting from the International Hockey League to the American Hockey League in 2001. He was fortunate to win a championship in both leagues, but notes that raising the cup in 1998 and 2008 were very different experiences.
“They were both special, but very, very different,” he said of the two title runs. “Back in 1998, the team didn’t have an affiliate. You had a lot of older, either ex-NHL players or free agent NHL players that wanted to finish up their careers, so the composition of our team was very different, and the league itself (the IHL) had a lot more older players. Obviously it was a different team in 2008. We had a lot more prospects and a rookie goaltender – in ‘98 we had Wendell Young and Stephane Beauregard, both NHL goaltenders, backing us up – it was a different make up.”
Despite the differences in the league, Martins found there to be a lot of positive similarities in Chicago over the years.
“The constants were the support of the ownership, and Johnny Anderson miraculously still being there 10 years later. From when I first got picked up by Gene Ubriaco, the Wolves always have been run first class. (Chairman of the Board) Don Levin and (Vice Chairman) Buddy Meyers just really do an outstanding job making sure you have everything you need to succeed, whether it’s players, or meals after games, or the occasional extra special team outing, that’s been constant.”
He also noted the enduring fan support he and his teammates received over the years.
“The fans were always outstanding as well, that was a big similarity between both championship years. I can’t say enough about the fans. They’ve really been so genuine and endearing to me, and to my kids and to my wife.”
Martins also enjoyed giving back to the fans who supported him and getting to know them through team sponsored events throughout the years.
“I think the fans really appreciated ‘Get Fed by the Wolves,’ where they get to sit down and have us be their servers. I always had fun with that,” he recalled. “The Season Ticket Holder Party was a huge thing too, because those are the fans that really make up the core of our fan base. They’ve always been so generous and so gracious to me and my family and so it’s really nice to get to know them and see how much hockey means to their families.”
Although Martins’ career took him across North America and even to Finland, he holds a very special place in his heart for Chicago, and for the Wolves organization in particular – so much so that following his retirement from playing, he continues to reside in the area and represents the organization as a community ambassador – but it’s more than just championship hardware that makes him cherish the team.
“I’m very thankful for being able to play here 10 years ago and then come back and end my career here. I feel like I’ve been very, very fortunate,” he said. “I met my wife here when she was working for the team, my kids go to school here, it’s been much more than anything I could have imagined.
“I really owe a lot of my life to the organization – my wife, Jennifer, and my two beautiful kids – as sappy as it sounds, the Chicago Wolves really had a lot to do with it, so I’m forever grateful.”