When they announced Thomas Hickey's name, disappointment and confusion ran rampant as few, if any, fans of the Los Angeles Kings knew who he was and, for those who did, could not understan why he was selected as high as fourth-overall. But that is exactly happened in 2007 when the Los Angeles Kings had their highest draft pick since 1999 when they drafted Olli Jokinen. But for those who thought the 2007 Draft was all for naught because of one lackluster pick, they would be both sorely mistaken and pleasantly surprised. I know this because I was one of those skeptics.
With the first three picks, Patrick Kane, James van Riemsdyk and Kyle Turris were all taken. To some, selecting Hickey was akin to the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers drafted Sam Bowie second-overall in 1984. To the eternal pessimist, it may have seemed that way but with all due respect to Karl Alzner (who Washington took fifth-overall) he was and is no Michael Jordan. Nevertheless, it didn't appear as if the Kings made the right choice. Yes, they picked a defenseman like they wanted but also missed out on the likes of Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan McDonagh and even Jonathon Blum. Thankfully, the Kings redeemed themselves, even if it wasn't known at the time.
Fast-forward to 91 picks when the Kings selected another defenseman. This blueliner was a smaller guy out of Miami-Ohio whose skill was so limited that it was laughable to some the thought of him every playing in the NHL, much less staying there. Nevertheless, that was when fans of the Los Angeles Kings - those who follow the draft so late - were introduced to Alec Martinez.
After he finished up his collegiate career at Miami, Martinez moved on to the American Hockey League where he suited up for Los Angeles' affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs. His eight goals and 15 assists in 72 games in 2008-09 was good enough to give the defenseman a shot with the big club the following season. But Martinez still struggled defensively, lasting just four games in Los Angeles. But while he kept putting up respectable offensive numbers, the native of Rochester Hills, Michigan, was still looked at as somewhat of a defensive liability. But in 209-10, Martinez was a +12 in Manchester and by the time he was ready to become a full-time King in 2010-11, he was a +11 while playing in 60 games for the big club.
Even though he was in Los Angeles on a more full-time basis, Alec Martinez wasn't necessarily out of the woods. While he was getting better, Martinez was still stumbling defensively which, in turn, caused many fans wanting to see the 6' 1 blueliner shipped out of town. But, like Dean Lombardi's rebuilding plan, patience was needed.
Little by little, fans became more convinced that Alec Martinez was here to stay. He may have helped the Kings win their first Stanley Cup in 2010 but by the time the 2014 playoffs rolled around, Martinez's role had grown exponentially.
In the last three seasons, Martinez has gone from 51 hits to 31 during the lockout-shortened season to 96 this past regular season, In terms of blocked shots, Martinez went from 58 to 31 (sgain, during the lockout-shortened season) and 75 this past regular season. But while his 22 hits and 15 blocked shots helped his team in the 2012 playoffs, Martinez was limited to just a pair of hits and five blocked shots last spring despite his team going all the way to the Western Final. This past postseason, however, was much different as the 26-year-old who not only dished out 39 hits and 50 blocked shots but helped the Kings win on the offensive side of the puck.
In a nervewracking Western Final series against the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks, the Kings held a 3-1 series lead before losing the next two. The Hawks may have had momentum being at home for the deciding game but Los Angeles forced overtime and in the extra session, it was none other than Alec Martinez scoring to eliminate the champions and move on to the Stanley Cup Final. Understandably, many thought that would be the biggest goal of Alec Martinez's career, but not quite.
Entering Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final (Martinez's 26th game), the defenseman had four goals and five assists entering overtime. And then, at 14:43 of the second OT, Martinez was on the doorstep to score a goal that would not only clinch his team's second Stanley Cup in three years but that would forever put himself in Stanley Cup lore.
While his goal made it the 17th time in NHL history that a team has won the Stanley Cup in overtime, Alec Martinez became the first to win it on home ice and 34 years and just the third in the Expansion Era. The last player to do the honours was Bob Nystrom is 1980 who clinched the first of four-straight Stanley Cups for the New York Islanders. The first time? 1970 by a player named Bobby Orr who happened to be tripped on the play that sent him flying.
Being that it happened less than 24 hours ago, it is a stretch to suggest that Alec Martinez's Cup-winner is, or will be, as iconic as Nystrom's or Orr's. But with that one goal, Alec Martinez lived the ultimate childhood dream of kids playing on the frozen pond or the street or their parents' driveway and winning the Stanley Cup in overtime as the crowd goes wild. Alec Martinez, while he did admit to having blacked out after the goal, got to live that dream.
Martinez's goal left Hispanic children and adults in Los Angeles with a collective feeling of utmost jubilation. Whether they watch hockey religiously or not at all is irrelevant. Martinez's Hispanic roots may only be tied with his Spanish-born grandfather but his impact will leave a longing and lasting impact on the Hispanic community. Some fans may not care as much about a player's background but for most, the fact that the Stanley Cup-winning goal was scored by Alec Martinez means something special. It means that the Hispanic population have a garnered a tremendous amount of pride and connection because of that one goal, and there are few things in hockey more wonderful than that. Whatever type of connection they feel with Alec Martinez - whether it's his Hispanic heritage, growing up in California or having a number of skeptics - fans of the Los Angeles Kings have gained a whole new level of respect for their defenseman. He may have just been in the right place at the right time in double-overtime on Friday but that is no different than any other athlete. Heck, Kirk Gibson still lives in Los Angeles sports lore for his game-winning home run in the 1988 World Series - and he only won Game 1 of said series. Granted, it was his only at-bat of the series. Even so, he deservedly joined a long list of names that impact sports in Los Angeles from Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant to Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale to Marcus Allen and Howie Long. Alec Martinez deservedly joins that list, but his impact won't be left to just Los Angeles but hockey in general.
It is much too early to determine whether or not Alec Martinez will go to the Hockey Hall of Fame but regardless, everything about his goal - the image, the video, even the equipment used - will be there soon enough, and will remain there until the end of time.
Next season will mark the final year of Alec Martinez's current contract, which will see him earn $1.1 million. You can be sure that Dean Lombardi and company will be working with the soon-to-be 27-year-old to give him the significant raise he deserves even had he not scored that goal. His Hispanic and California connections aside, Alec Martinez is a Los Angeles King and as long as he dons the silver-and-black, he is, to Kings fans everywhere, family.