Ever since Paul Martin was a kid growing up in Elk River, MN, he was driven to spend time outside playing sports. In the winters, from the age of 5, he’d pull on his gear and run to the pond in his backyard. There, he and the other “rink rats,” as the locals called them, would push a hockey puck around the ice. They’d pretend to be Joel Otto, an Elk River native turned NHL pro, or Mike Modano, a Hockey Hall of Fame inductee. Later, Martin would join his family inside to cheer on the Minnesota Gophers men’s hockey team. As diehard Gopher fans—many of them alumni—the whole family wore maroon and gold.
Martin’s natural athletic ability led him to become a seasonal athlete: baseball in the spring, football in the fall, and hockey in the winter. But it was in hockey that his talents blossomed. Eventually, he received a scholarship to play for the Gophers.
“I was excited to come to a place I'd been cheering for my whole life,” says Martin of his time at the U of M, during which the Gophers won back-to-back national championships.
In 2000, after his junior year, he was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the NHL. In 2014, he was selected to represent the United States in the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
“I flew my family over and it was a great experience and quite an honor to represent our country,” says Martin.
At the age of 37, after 14 years in the NHL, Martin turned in his skates and retired from the game.
At that point, he had to ask himself some hard questions, like “Who am I if I’m not a professional hockey player?”
In 2019, his search for meaning in a post-hockey life led him back to the U of M, where he hoped to finish the bachelor’s degree he’d started 16 years before. Through the College of Continuing and Professional Studies’ Multidisciplinary Studies program, he was able to transfer his previously earned credits and design an individualized degree that would enable him to accomplish his goals, which had certainly changed since the last time he’d sat in a classroom.
“I took it course by course, easing back into school,” says Martin. “In the spring of 2019, I took Intro to Multidisciplinary Studies with Lisa Garrett, who was great at providing me direction and helping me to articulate my plan for the degree in the form of a proposal.”
Martin’s study focus areas are history, leadership studies, and communications, and he is on track to graduate in the spring of 2022. After that he plans to put more time and energy into coaching hockey and growing a nonprofit he started in 2014 called “Shine A Ligh7” (the 7 is a reference to Martin’s jersey number). The organization distributes funds to raise awareness and reduce the mental health stigma by empowering youth to share their stories and let their soul shine, says Martin. Shine A Ligh7 has become a champion for youth mental health education and awareness throughout Minnesota.
“Some of my close friends, family members, myself, and my teammates in the National Hockey League deal with depression and have struggled to maintain their mental health,” says Martin. “We see how important mental health and healing are. And so that was my ambition with Shine A Ligh7, to raise awareness.”
In the meantime, Martin is looking forward to the day he’ll graduate from the University he has looked up to and admired since he was a young boy.
“It’s been really rewarding to get to this point,” he says. “My perspective is different now. I’m so thankful to all the people who have helped me. I definitely will cherish this degree. It's more than just a piece of paper to me.”
Watch: Paul Martin to join Frank Mazzocco for a conversation about his experiences at the University of Minnesota including his second stint with the Maroon & Gold this season as a member of the coaching staff.