By Chris Langrill
The Idaho Statesman
BOISE, Idaho – Just a few short seasons ago, Marty Flichel was languishing on the Idaho Steelheads’ bench.
He played in only 20 games during the 2004-05 season, and at 28 years old he found himself wondering if he had a future in hockey.
Today, Flichel is the Steelheads’ captain, his face is plastered across the front of the team schedule and he is tied for the team lead in scoring (4 goals, 5 assists) after Saturday night’s 5-4 victory over the Utah Grizzlies.
Flichel’s come a long way, baby.
He’s come a long way because he’s now playing for a coach whose style better fits his game. Plus, he’s become a better player. But mostly, he’s come a long way because he is a textbook example of the art of perseverance.
Now, the right-winger who once had doubts about whether he could play, is thinking about his future in the game at the age of 30.
“Who knows? If I stay healthy, maybe I could play for a couple more years,” Flichel said.
It wouldn’t be wise to bet against him.
Flichel, who began playing hockey while living on a farm outside of Hodgeville, Saskatchewan, always had a knack for scoring.
From the rink he and his brothers built by flooding the family garden to Dayton, Ohio, to Michigan, to England to Tacoma, Wash., he has always been able to put up impressive offensive numbers.
He had 107 points in 69 games for the Kelowna (British Columbia) Rockets of the WHL. He consistently scored more than a point a game during stops in the WHL, WCHL and ECHL.
But then he came to play for the Steelheads under John Olver, and he found himself playing for a coach who preached defense first.
“My style of play wasn’t conducive to the coaching style that was here at the time, so I ended up leaving for a year,” Flichel said.
He left his wife, Rachel, in Boise and went to Michigan, where he played for a year with the Kalamazoo Wings of the UHL. Once again, he put up solid numbers (61 points in 64 games), but it wasn’t where he wanted to be. He wanted to be in Boise.
“My wife stayed here, and it was a long, tough year,” Flichel said.
He came back to Boise, but found himself suffering through that 2004-05 season in which he only played 20 games.
“(Flichel) was always a guy you had to look out for,” Steelheads teammate Scott Burt said. “But he didn’t get a chance with J.O., and he was kind of the odd man out.”
Still, maybe the experience made Flichel want to become a more complete player?
“Oh, for sure,” Flichel said. “You have to look at yourself in the mirror, and I’m not blaming anyone for it.”
Flichel began to focus his energies on the world outside of hockey and he started a landscape business that he still runs.
But then Olver resigned before last season, and Derek Laxdal took over as coach.
It was a chance for Flichel to prove himself again.
“All of the guys who came in here last year were told they were coming in here on a tryout basis,” Laxdal said. “Whatever happened in the past is a clean slate. To be honest with you, the only person who has a free ride with me is my wife.”
Because of his experience, Flichel knew that he would get more chances as call-ups and injuries occurred.
“I started the season as the 10th forward, and I tried to be as patient as I could be,” Flichel said. “I had kind of been around a little bit.”
Flichel ended up playing in every game last season, scoring 68 points in 72 games.
“To be honest with you, at the beginning of the season I doubted myself,” Flichel said. “After playing in only 20 games the previous year, I didn’t know if I could keep up with these young guys.”
But he could — and he still can. His coach said his work ethic has something to do with that.
“You look at the player and you see his work ethic in the summertime with his landscaping business,” said Laxdal, who chose Flichel to share the role of team captain with Burt and Darrell Hay because he wanted veteran leadership.
“He’s putting in long hours providing for his family, and he brings that same work ethic to our dressing room. Here’s a guy who’s 30 years old, and he’s ripped. He’s probably got 8 percent body fat.”
And a ton of perseverance.