Luke DeCock

Game-winner the least of big week for Hurricanes’ Martinook

In the space of a week, Jordan Martinook became a new father, signed a new contract and scored his 11th goal. It was already the best week of his life even before he gave the Carolina Hurricanes the lead for good Friday night. It would have been anyway.

These eventful seven days make it as good a time as any to take a step back and appreciate what Martinook has brought to the Hurricanes, by any measure far more than was ever expected when he arrived in a trade over the summer. He has played his way upward from the fourth line while mentoring Andrei Svechnikov and being the kind of leader-without-a-letter the Hurricanes once had in overflow but have largely lacked during The Drought.

“To be honest with you, I think I could fit in any room,” Martinook said after his game-winner in Friday’s 5-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights. “I bring my energy. I bring my personality. I think for the most part people enjoy it. I am who I am and I’ve been this way forever and I’m not going to change. Luckily, it’s been an unbelievable fit here.”

The really good teams – 2002, 2006, 2009 – were full of guys like that, well-liked veterans and hard-working younger guys. At a time when the Hurricanes couldn’t really spend for top-end talent like big-market teams, in the pre-cap era, then-general manager Jim Rutherford did a remarkable job of finding character as much as skill. Justin Williams was once one of those guys, an obvious future captain in his first stint. Martinook would have fit in just fine with Kevyn and Craig Adams.

Guys like that were the spine of the teams that established the Hurricanes here, and when they aged out or otherwise left – so many moving onto new careers as coaches and executives and broadcasters – the Hurricanes were left spineless, a fitting adjective for last season’s capitulation. Enter Martinook, a classic hockey character in the Ray Whitney model, taking no verbal prisoners.

“He’s got some personality,” Justin Faulk said. “We’ve probably lacked that in recent years. We haven’t had too many guys (like that), not necessarily in in a bad way, obviously, but a little looser. It’s not a bad thing at all. Everyone has their own way of doing things and he obviously plays the game hard and we can all see what he does out there. But what he does in the room is as important as what he does on the ice. He’s lively. He makes a lot of jokes. And he’s good at taking them, too.”

Not bad for a guy whose acquisition was more notable at the time for the way the Hurricanes sloughed the rest of Marcus Kruger’s contract off on the Arizona Coyotes. Over the past three months, Martinook earned the trust of his coaches and respect of his teammates and played his way into a two-year contract extension and raise from $1.85 million to $2 million as one of the players the Hurricanes were able to re-sign ahead of the trade deadline, like Teuvo Teravainen, but in a different tax bracket.

These are tough negotiations, a little carrot and a little stick, the offer of security and the threat of a deadline trade. For some players, like Micheal Ferland, the potential free-agent payday is too good to turn down. For a Teravainen or a Martinook, it makes more sense to take the sure thing – especially when, you know, your wife is in labor with your first child.

So while many of his teammates spent All-Star weekend and their winter-break week chasing the sun, Martinook spent it with infant son Chase, then got back on the ice and tied his career-high with his 11th goal, and a crucial one at that. The Hurricanes had largely dominated Vegas for most of two periods but were left with little to show for it at 2-2 after a pair of Shea Theodore goals.

Then Martinook took a pass from Brock McGinn on a two-on-one late in the second and did the least consequential thing he’s done all week in the scope of his life and perhaps the most consequential in the scope of the team’s season.

“I don’t know if I want to have another baby yet,” Martinook said, “but I definitely want another week like that.”

Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered the Summer Olympics, the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.
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