Even Kate Martini was surprised about leading Yale in scoring in 2012-13.
“To be perfectly honest, it surprised me as much my team,” said the now sophomore defenseman for the Bulldogs, who scored 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in her freshman campaign. “I didn’t do anything in particular. I just made smart decisions and got in the zone and took good shots.”
She might be humble about her on-ice smarts, but Martini has been one of the highlights for a rebuilding Yale squad trying to inch back into ECAC relevance. Yale is 2-5-1 early this season but has played much more competitive games than in recent years.
The Bulldogs opened their season battling against two of last season’s Frozen Four participants, taking a second-period lead against Boston College, then knotting it up 3-3 in the middle of the third after the Eagles had pulled ahead. Boston College snuck away with the late 4-3 win. Yale then faced Boston University, keeping the defending national runner-up scoreless in the first and tying BU in the second before the Terriers escaped with a 2-1 win.
Martini and her Yale squad are seeing more even contributions from throughout the roster. But Martini knows her team needs to take one more step before it can win games against the country’s best.
“I think a lot of what we need to do is mental,” Martini said. “The past few seasons have been long for this team. I think we need to look at games like against BC and BU and know that we can win those games and not go in there thinking automatically that they’re going to win.”
The King City, Ont., native isn’t lighting up the goal lamp like she was last season (she had three goals and an assist through mid-November), and that is OK with her. Martini is focused on doing her job this season, and doing it well. “I have been putting my focus on the defensive side of the ice this season, while still trying to contribute offensively.”
Being able to play good defense in the very competitive ECAC is helped by how prevalent Ontario-bred players are in the league. Just on the Yale roster, Martini is one of six players from Ontario, and one of 10 Canadians. Much of the league follows suit in regard to Canadian flavor.
“There are girls on many of the teams in the league that I played against. It’s like having a big network,” Martini said. “Before games, we all sit down and talk about the girls on the other team who we have played against before.”
Many on the Yale roster have played against each other before in the Canadian women’s club hockey system.
“There are currently three girls on my team who played on my club team,” Martini said. “(Freshman forward) Kristy Yip-Chuck and I played against each other’s club teams for two years.”
Though many of the faces are familiar, some aspects of the game are different between Canadian club hockey and Division 1 college hockey. The biggest difference Martini notes is the difference in playing time.
“I would say that my fitness level has improved the most since starting college,” she said. “In high school, I would play two 15- and one 20-minute periods. Now not only is the length different, I’m playing 30 minutes a game, and need to be effective the entire time.”
Another big difference between Martini’s club and college game is the focus on just one sport. Martini was a multisport athlete in high school, trying a plethora of sports including soccer, volleyball and track and field.
But only rugby captured her attention as much as hockey. Martini achieved as much on the rugby pitch as she did on the ice. She still holds the Country Day School’s all-time scoring record in rugby, scoring 224 points, and was named the team MVP for three straight years. She also made the Ontario U17 team that won a bronze medal at the 2011 Canadian championships.
Martini believes her rugby game helps with her hockey playing. “Rugby is an aggressive sport and an instinctive sport. In rugby, you have to think quickly. It makes you more effective if you can think on your feet in both rugby and hockey.”
Due to the intensity of Division 1 hockey, rugby no longer has a place in Martini’s schedule, but the sport will work its way back upon graduation.
“Rugby is a little on the shelf for now,” Martini said. “I was going to play if I went home next summer, but it looks like I’ll be here training and taking classes. After college, I fully intend on getting back on the rugby pitch, though.”
Athleticism runs in the Martini family. She followed her brother Robert’s American college hockey path. The older Martini was a defenseman on the men’s team at Niagara University, where he graduated with a 4.15 GPA in the economics program. His success at both hockey and school serves as a great example for the younger Martini, and the two share a solid relationship.
“My brother is my role model,” she said. “His advice is always to do your best. I am lucky to have a great coaching and overall situation here at Yale. When he was playing, he wasn’t as lucky, and he had some struggles. But his advice is always to do my best, no matter what, because that’s what got him through.”
Ice sports run in the Martini family beyond the two Martini hockey siblings. Their father, Paul, is a legend in a sport that might rival hockey for Canada’s heart — figure skating. Skating pairs with Barbara Underhill (now a sought-after power-skating instructor for NHL teams), Paul finished in the top 10 at two Olympic Games and won the 1984 World Championships. Despite the similarities in surface, Kate says that her father is hands-off.
“My father didn’t want to get too involved in our sports,” Martini said. “He always wanted us to do our best, and instilled that in us.”
Martini will continue to do her best for Yale, whether that means jumping in offensively or defending the blue line. She is confident that at some point during her tenure in New Haven, Conn, the Bulldogs will again be a ECAC contender.
“I think overall we are making strides towards becoming a playoff team,” she said. “We’re taking great steps in that direction.”
This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.