By Brian Compton
If anyone out there was under the impression that the Elmira Jackals were not going to try to make a serious run at the Kelly Cup in their first season in the ECHL, think again.
The Jackals proved that three weeks ago with the hiring of head coach Steve Martinson, a 12-year veteran who just won his sixth championship behind the bench. Martinson recently guided the United Hockey League’s Rockford Ice Hogs to a Colonial Cup title.
In all, Martinson, who celebrated his 50th birthday yesterday, has won 576 games and six championships behind the bench, not to mention the two titles he was a part of as a player with the International Hockey League’s Toledo Goaldiggers (1982) and the Central Hockey League’s Tulsa Oilers (1984).
This will not be Martinson’s first go-round in the ECHL. In their first season in the ECHL, Martinson guided the San Diego Gulls to the best record in the league at 49-13-10 in 2003-04. But the Gulls were quickly ousted in the opening round by the Alaska Aces, a loss that still stings to this day for Martinson.
“The way I look at it, I’ve got some unfinished business,” Martinson said about his return to the ECHL. “We finished first overall and then had an early exit in the playoffs. It was a pretty frustrating ending to my time in San Diego. We out-shot them 2-1 in three games.”
Martinson moved on to UHL Rockford and experienced more success, culminating with this year’s championship. He’s expecting more of the same in Elmira, mainly because of its close proximity to American Hockey League franchises such as Rochester and Binghamton. He believes that chip will come in handy during the recruiting process.
“If you’re a free agent and you want to make it, the couple of (AHL) teams that are near us — Binghamton and Rochester — don’t really have ECHL affiliations,” Martinson said. “In the AHL, the coach just wants to get the guy that can help him win. That’s what we’ve got here — opportunity. I’m going to have the same team I’ve had for 12 years. We’re going to be as physical as the rules allow us. We’re bringing old-time hockey back to the North — I can tell you that. My teams are entertaining.”