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Alec Martinez on signing with rebuilding Blackhawks: ‘I think we're going to be pretty good'

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The Chicago Blackhawks made eight signings on Day 1 of NHL free agency, which included three-time Stanley Cup champion defenseman Alec Martinez, who signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the team.

When reports trickled out earlier in the day that Martinez would sign with the Blackhawks, you couldn't help but think of the role he played in preventing Chicago from potentially winning three consecutive Stanley Cups. 

Martinez scored the Game 7 overtime winner against the Blackhawks at the United Center in the 2014 Western Conference Final for the Los Angeles Kings, who went on to win the Stanley Cup after Martinez scored the overtime winner again in Game 5 against the New York Rangers. Of course, the elephant in the room needed to be addressed almost immediately.

"It's really funny, I didn’t think anyone would bring this up," Martinez said, smiling. "I remember it rather vividly. Obviously we definitely had some heated battles. I’m very aware of what the United Center is like and I’m excited to see it on the other side of things. I know how difficult of a building it is to play in, I know how loud the fans are, I know how awesome the atmosphere is. But yeah, those were some fun times, heated games, heated series. 

"It’ll be different since I’ve been on the receiving end of that animosity and that crowd and that atmosphere, but it's going to be fun to be on the other side now."

At this point in his career, you would expect Martinez to continue trying to add to his impressive résumé of Stanley Cups. And while that's still a goal of his, there was something about Chicago that sold him.

Martinez chatted with Nick Foligno about the possibility of joining the Blackhawks along with Connor Murphy, who was roommates with Martinez for Team USA at the 2018 IIHF World Championship. He talked to a few others around the league that played in Chicago and also some players that enjoyed playing for Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson. There weren't many cons when putting together his list.

"To be quite honest, it was all very, very positive," Martinez said. "It was pretty overwhelming feedback that it's obviously a really good organization, which I already knew. But the fact that they do things the right way, the guys love playing there, the guys enjoy being there, I grew up relatively close, it’s kind of cool to come back to the Midwest for me after being out in the West for the entirety of my career. 

"I guess short answer is just overwhelmingly positive of pretty much every facet of the organization from ownership to management to coaches to the group that's in the group to community, you name it. Nothing but positive things."

Martinez is entering a different situation than he's used to. He's played on a contender pretty much his entire career, but now he's joining a Blackhawks team that's in a rebuild, albeit looking to take the next step.

Martinez said he had a "really good" conversation with Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson about serving as a mentor for some of the younger defensemen on the roster.

"I've been very fortunate in my career to have learned from some pretty special players and people, and I’d be the first to tell you I don’t know everything by any means," Martinez said. "I do have the experience of playing in big-time games at the United Center, and playing in the playoffs and I would like to think to a certain extent I do know what it takes to win. But again, I’ve been very fortunate to learn from a lot of older guys and any of them see this interview, they know who they are. I’ve been molded by them.

"Just like anyone, I would say regardless of what industry or job or any experience in life, we probably all look back and wish we would've handled certain things a little bit differently as a younger person. But I was fortunate to have people to give me a pat on the back and give me a kick in the rear when I needed it, and I look at this as an opportunity where I can give back to the game of hockey that’s given me a lot. 

"I can't stress enough, and I told Kyle the same thing: I'm not going to sit here and try to act like I know everything by any means. I make as many mistakes as the next guy, but I thought that it was a pretty cool, unique opportunity to play with younger players with a lot of talent and if I can help them in any way I can, then I’m more than willing to do so and I’m excited to do so."

Martinez will be 37 years old on Opening Night and is going into his 16th season in the NHL. On paper, he might be looked at as more of a depth defenseman. But he can still log bigger minutes if needed.

Martinez averaged 19:02 of ice time last season in 55 games with the Vegas Golden Knights. He recorded 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) over that stretch but, more notably, averaged 9.45 blocked shots per 60 minutes, which ranked No. 2 among all NHL skaters that appeared in at least 40 games.

While he will serve as a mentor of some sorts, Martinez feels he has some hockey left in the tank to play a sizable role, too.

"I feel good," Martinez said. "I would say that I genuinely feel really good when I’m on the ice. It's just — and it's not secret — at my age, it takes a little extra to feel that way. But I think that’s true of, I mean anyone really over the age of 30 in this league, if they’re continuing to play, then that means they’re doing things the right way off the ice, taking care of their body, doing things like that. 

"And that was one of the things going into the summer, my contract being up and looking at whether I was going to continue playing or not, I still love the game, I still want to play, I feel like I’m effective, I feel like I can contribute. Physically, I feel really good, especially when I’m out there on the ice. But just like anyone my age, you might have to add five minutes to that warmup."

If he plays well with the Blackhawks, it wouldn't be surprising to see Martinez moved to a contender at the trade deadline in exchange for a future asset as he aims to chase his fourth Stanley Cup. Having said that, Martinez also sees some potential in these Blackhawks.

"I’m pretty excited, I don't know about you guys," Martinez said after seeing the Blackhawks' free-agent signings. "You see some of those names and the kind of guys and the pedigree. The hockey world’s fairly small, so the quality of human being, caliber, that way, I’m pretty excited. And I think we’re going to be pretty good, too."

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