Alec Martinez is a fifth-year defenseman for the Los Angeles Kings. He grew up in Michigan but spent his junior-high years playing for the Junior San Jose Sharks and Santa Clara Blackhawks before his family moved back to the Midwest. He was a fixture during the Kings' 2011-12 Stanley Cup championship run.
My father, Frank, worked for General Motors for 30 years and he got transferred. GM had a joint venture with Toyota just outside of Fremont, Calif., and my family had to move out here for two or three years before we moved back to Michigan.
The hockey scene was a lot different. In Michigan, there were a lot more teams and lot more kids played. There were only a select few clubs in Northern California, so you had to come down to L.A. a lot. In Michigan, in terms of tournaments growing up, you don't really have to leave except for Chicago or Toronto. But, really, that's not very far. When you move to California, the tournaments are in Alaska or Las Vegas.
I was a defenseman back then. I've been one since I was a Squirt. I played with Kings coach Darryl Sutter's son, Brett, for the Junior Sharks. There were a couple of guys that went on to play in college and in the minors, but Brett was the only other player to make it to the NHL.
I think some major junior teams had some interest in me but I told them not to bother because I was going to go to college. I knew that's what I wanted to do. I grew up watching Michigan and Michigan State and going to the Great Lakes Invitational at Christmas.
I actually tendered a contract with a team in the North American League, but then I got drafted by Cedar Rapids of the United States Hockey League and it was kind of a no-brainer. At the time, the USHL was the best league for getting to college and I think it still is. Something like 95 percent of those guys play in Division I. It was a really good experience. Justin Abdelkader of the Detroit Red Wings and Alex Stalock of the San Jose Sharks were on the team. We had a pretty good club and ended up winning the whole thing that year.
I considered other colleges but I kind of knew I was going to Miami of Ohio. Assistant coach Jeff Blashill, who is now the coach at Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League, is from Michigan, and he coached the United States select team, so I kind of had a relationship with him. He's one of those guys that really helped me a lot along the way. I just knew it was a good spot for me.
It was close enough to home but far away enough, about a four- or five-hour drive from Detroit. We made the NCAA tournament every year. My sophomore and junior years, we made it to the quarterfinals. [Boston College] ended my college season all three years. Needless to say, I'm not a big fan of the Eagles.
I still keep in contact with one of my coaches in San Jose. He talks to me about the youth programs there, and I don't even know what's going on because there's so many clubs now. It's grown so much. I'm completely lost in terms of youth hockey since I've been there.
It was a good experience. Hockey's brought me a lot of places in my life. It was disappointing because I was in sixth grade at the time and I didn't want to move away from all my friends, but looking back on it, it was a good experience.
My old coach is a scout for Medicine Hat. He's talked about how the Western Hockey League is starting to tap into California a little bit more because they're realizing there's a lot of talent down here, and there's a lot of clubs. The game has grown big time.
I'd like to think us winning the Cup helped too. I think the Kings and Ducks have done a good job in the community trying to grow the game and get the word out. There are a lot of other things which take a front-row seat to hockey in Southern California. There's the beach and it's a whole different dynamic, but I think it's grown a lot.