May 29, 2012

OXFORD, Ohio - Only two former Miami University hockey players have hoisted Lord Stanley's Cup for winning the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup Playoffs. But when the New Jersey Devils scored 63 seconds into overtime last Friday, that distinguished group of Miami alumni was guaranteed to grow by one.

With the extra-session goal, the sixth-seeded Devils closed out their Eastern Conference Finals series with the top-seeded New York Rangers in six games, securing a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals. They will meet the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings, who won the Western Conference Finals over the third-seeded Phoenix Coyotes in just five games. Former RedHawk Andy Greene, who played at Miami from 2002-06, is a defenseman for the New Jersey Devils. He'll see a familiar face across the ice during the Stanley Cup Finals, which start Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET, as Alec Martinez, who played for the `Hawks from 2005-08, is a defenseman for the Kings. Both are making their Stanley Cup debut.

"It's exciting for the Miami Hockey family that we're competing head to head but we've still got a job to do," Martinez said. "You're going to run into this with (Tommy) Wingels in San Jose, (Andy) Miele in Phoenix. You play against guys you've played with before or against so once you get towards the top of the hockey world, it gets smaller. It's obviously a good story but something I'm familiar with."

Either Greene or Martinez will join Dan Boyle ('98) and Kevyn Adams ('96) as Miami Hockey alums that have captured the Stanley Cup. Whoever wins will be the first player to have been coached by Head Coach Enrico Blasi, however, as Boyle and Adams played prior to Blasi taking over as coach. Boyle, who currently plays for the San Jose Sharks, won his in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Adams, now an assistant coach for the Buffalo Sabres, earned his in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes. This year's Stanley Cup Finals marks the first time Miami has had a former player on each team, however.

"It would be awesome," Martinez said of becoming the third former RedHawk to win the Stanley Cup. "The program has come a long way. Ever since Coach (Steve) Cady and now more recently, the program really started picking up a few years before I got there when (head coach) Rico (Blasi) and (former associate head coach Chris) Bergeron were (players) there, they had strong teams. It's become a top program. Obviously, it's really exciting and if we can get another Stanley Cup winner in the Miami Hockey family, I don't see how that's a bad thing."

Greene echoed Martinez's comments.

"The way the program has developed and evolved over the last 10 years or so has been unbelievable. It seems now, you see Reilly (Smith) signing right after the season was over and stepped in and played with Dallas and Andy Miele from last year played quite a few games with Phoenix. You can see the steps the program has taken over the last few years and how much better it's gotten, not just on a regional level but on a national level."

Although a combined total of 16 players in the Stanley Cup Finals played college hockey, Miami is one of just three NCAA teams to have an alumnus on both the Devils and Kings along with Boston College and the University of North Dakota. Former Eagles in the Stanley Cup include New Jersey's Stephen Gionta and Peter Harrold and Los Angeles' Rob Scuderi while UND's alumni include the Devils' Zach Parise and Travis Zajac and the Kings' Matt Greene.

"When you get to this point, you're not thinking too much about the guys on the other team as friends, but that's just the way it worked itself out," the Devils' Greene said. "For me and Tino to play against each other, it's quite special and unfortunately there's going to be one winner and one loser."

Not only did Greene and Martinez both play at Miami, they shared the ice together for one season in Oxford, each playing on the 2005-06 team that won the CCHA regular-season championship and made the NCAA Tournament for just the second time since 1996-97. It was only Miami's second CCHA title in program history while the RedHawks haven't missed the NCAA Tournament since. That team was also the last to play in the "old" Goggin Arena as Greene closed out his career as a senior while Martinez was just a freshman.

"I certainly learned a lot from him," Martinez said of Greene, both of whom played left defenseman. "He was real good with the younger guys both on and off the ice. I looked up to him being a younger guy and him being the guy with the reputation he had. He was a big-time player."

Some of the things Greene taught Martinez in college are paying off now in the NHL ranks, especially heading into the Stanley Cup Finals.

"He showed me how to take care of yourself and carry yourself. He was very professional and had been through it before. He knew the ropes," Martinez noted. "Greene is a guy who wasn't overly vocal, but lead by example. He helped teach me how to handle myself on and off the ice. He knew when things were strictly business and when to have fun."

Martinez and the Kings have been having a lot of fun as of late, rolling through the playoffs despite being the lowest seed in the Western Conference. Los Angeles took out the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks in five games in the first round before sweeping second-seeded St. Louis in the conference semifinals en route to a 12-2 postseason record this year, including 8-0 on the road.

"We started clicking at the right time. We were obviously playing playoff hockey for about the last month of the (regular) season because everything was so tight in the West, especially in our division we were constantly jockeying for a spot and trying to win the division to get home ice in the playoffs," Martinez said. "Fortunately we were able to get in a playoff spot. We're a confident group that we're a good hockey club, we're playing as a team and that's what we've been doing lately."

A native of Rochester Hills, Mich., Martinez is in his second full season with the Kings and third overall while he is making his second appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He has played in all 14 playoff games this year, tallying his lone point of the postseason in L.A.'s first playoff game April 11, a win over the Canucks. He has a +2 rating with eight penalty minutes this postseason as well, after notching one assist in six playoff games last year. In the regular season, he played in 51 games, notching 12 points on six goals and assists each.

Martinez is no stranger to success, as he earned All-American honors as a junior, his last year at Miami, while also garnering First-Team All-CCHA and CCHA Best Defensive Defenseman in 2007-08, in addition to his CCHA title. Despite that, getting to the Stanley Cup Finals is a momentous achievement for the former RedHawk.

"I don't think it has really sunk in yet. It has been my dream since I was a little kid," Martinez said of making it to the Stanley Cup Finals. "It's started to sink in the last couple days since we knew who we were playing and who we need to prepare for. It was always in the back of our minds, but our coaching staff has done a good job keeping us focused on the next game and each series. Obviously, it's a goal of every kid that laces up his skates works towards. We've just taken it one step at a time."

The veteran Greene, on the other hand, is in his sixth season in the NHL, all with the Devils, and has made the playoffs five of his six seasons in New Jersey. The Trenton, Mich., native has appeared in all 18 games this postseason and has a +1 rating with six penalty minutes and one assist, which he dished out April 15 in the first round against the third-seeded Florida Panthers - a series that went the distance (seven games) but was won by the Devils. He also helped New Jersey get by fifth-seeded Philadelphia in five games in the conference semifinals before knocking off the Rangers.

"It's pretty special," Greene said. "It's one of those things you work your whole career for and it's a great feeling. I don't think it's really set in with this whole playoff run, what's gone on so far. Hopefully in a few weeks we can take a look back on everything and really let it sink in."

Greene played in 56 games during the 2011-12 regular season, totaling 16 points, including 15 assists, with a +3 rating. He has suited up for 347 career regular-season games and 39 career playoff games, with three goals and four assists in his postseason career.

At Miami, Greene was one of the best defenseman to ever play for the RedHawks, as he was a two-time All-American, a Hobey Baker Finalist in 2006 and a three-time First-Team All-CCHA selection. The two-time captain also won CCHA Best Offensive Defenseman as both a junior and senior and captured Best Defensive Defenseman in the league as a senior as well.

Even while collecting all his accolades, Greene knew Martinez could fill the void he would leave behind after graduating.

"He was a pretty young kid, maybe even younger than a normal freshman. He was a great kid, a great player and you could tell he was going to be a special player as he got older and matured," Greene said of his former teammate turned foe. "The type of year we had made it special too. We needed to get over that hump. We sort of got there with the CCHA Championship. We were a young team that year and it built the foundation for the next few years."

With Greene serving as a mentor to Martinez in college, the two have stayed in touch since embarking on pro careers.

"We send texts every once in a while here and there," Greene said. "It's tough, especially with him being on the West Coast and me on the East Coast with the time change. It's tough to sit there and make phone calls. You don't want to bug a guy in his pregame nap. During the regular season when he came to New Jersey and when we went to L.A., we saw each other and talked for a little while."

Martinez noted they also see each other at Miami Hockey's Alumni Weekend and at last year's inaugural Pro Camp.

Although they may be good friends and former teammates, there was no congratulatory call from Martinez to Greene when the Devils clinched a spot in the Finals. And don't expect much chatting off the ice between the two in the next two weeks either.

"It comes down to business," Martinez said. "Once it's over, maybe we'll talk, but it's business right now."

As for whether or not the Stanley Cup could make an appearance at Miami, neither wanted to look that far ahead.

"It sounds cliché but we haven't won anything yet," Greene said of his possible date with the Stanley Cup. "We'll take it one game at a time and when that time comes, if we're fortunate enough to be there, I'll definitely have some plans for it (the Cup)."

Until then, enjoy the battle of former RedHawks in which one will become the third Miami alum to hoist the Stanley Cup.

 

--MURedHawks.com--