With just over 12 minutes remaining in Game 5 of the North Division Semifinal in Syracuse last Tuesday, Laval Rocket forward Danick Martel was on the ice. With the trainer by his side, he slowly got up and skated off on his own, clearly favouring an upper-body injury.
It looked like his game was done, and in Martel’s eyes, it was. When he returned to the bench for the second period, it wasn’t because he was expecting to play.
By now you know how the story continued on Sunday night: Martel scored four goals in the Laval Rocket’s 6-1 win over the Rochester Americans in Game 1 of the North Division Final.
This was Danick Martel last Tuesday. He ended up coming back in the second period.— Jared Book (@jaredbook) May 23, 2022
He was questionable for tonight's game.
Just a few days later, he has four goals. pic.twitter.com/3YWDlLMM4U
To fully appreciate Martel’s game on Sunday, we need to fill in the rest of the story.
Let’s go back to Tuesday night, and Martel going back to the bench after being in the room for the final 12 minutes of the first.
“I went to the bench to support the team at the start of the second period, to encourage them and be a good leader and more the game went on, the more you want to play, the more you want to make the difference,” Martel said. “At a certain point, we knew it couldn’t get worse so we’ll just work hard to do the most we can do.”
“The emotions take over in the the playoffs. You want to help the team, that’s what happened the last game.”
The Rocket have been playing games with 11 forwards. Going down to 10 for 52 minutes of an elimination game was going to be problematic. Martel ended up taking shifts, and played the final two periods and overtime.
“He’s a tough kid. He dug deep to come back and obviously playing with 11 forwards, to go down to 10 would have been really tough and I think he knew that,” said Rocket defender Corey Schueneman. “He knows what’s at stake and he wanted to help us and obviously we appreciate that.”
He ended up getting an assist on Gabriel Bourque’s series-winning goal in overtime, but he’ll be quick to point out that it could have ended very differently.
“I almost contributed to Syracuse’s winning goal too with a penalty in overtime,” Martel said.
Earlier in the week, Martel was not taking regular reps in practice. The official word was that he was questionable to play in Sunday’s Game 1, but Martel felt differently.
“From the outside, it looked questionable, but I knew I was going to play, I knew I was going to try to make a difference,” Martel said after Sunday’s game.
Throughout his pre-game interview, Martel mentioned making a difference several times.
“I’m not 120% but at the same time, I’m a guy who will work hard,” Martel said prior to the game. “I don’t see how if I was able to finish the game, a week later I wouldn’t be able to play the best I can. I’m going to play tonight trying to make the difference in the game. The guys can see it as courageous but we all have to work together and that’s where it starts in Game 1.”
“He didn’t want to let his teammates down,” said Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle. “He has always shown character, even at a young age. He was never drafted in junior, never drafted in the NHL, but he’s always found a way to succeed and that’s the type of player he is.”
The 27-year-old played for Houle for his first two full seasons in the QMJHL, and the two reunited in Laval this season.
After his four-goal game on Sunday, the very talkative Martel found himself in a different situation trying to describe how he was feeling.
“It doesn’t happen often that we have a game like that,” Martel said. “The puck followed me everywhere. Even when I passed the puck to not look selfish, it found its way back. I don’t have the words.”
“Our emotions were all over the place. We were fully engaged and really wanted this game,” he said.
“[He’s a p]layer you could put anywhere in the lineup, and he had a big, big game tonight,” Houle said.
Martel was asked the last time he scored four goals in a game.
“Maybe pee-wee or atom,” he said. “In the pros, I averaged a hat trick a year and I didn’t have one yet this year, so it came at a good time.”
The Rocket mantra all playoffs has been ‘never too high, never too low’, and Martel showed that. Despite taking questions about his biggest and best professional game to date, he was already focused on something else.
“We have to put it behind us,” Martel said. “We have a game [Monday] and we have to go to Rochester up 2-0 not tied 1-1.”
Game 2 of the best-of-five North Division Final is Monday night at Place Bell in Laval. Puck drop is scheduled for shortly after 7:00 p.m.