Eric Martin grabbed six loose balls last weekend to become the Stealth's all-time loose balls leader (Photo: Richard Olson).
Time was winding down in the third quarter of the 2010 NLL Championship Game. In the team’s first season playing in a new city, the Washington Stealth trailed the Toronto Rock 10-7 at a packed-to-the-rafters Comcast Arena. The big crowd wasn’t much of a factor at that point, as the Rock had control of the game and had just pulled their goaltender to give their potent offense an extra attacker.
With nine seconds left on the clock, Eric Martin intercepted a Blaine Manning pass and flung the ball towards the empty net at the opposite end of the floor. His shot missed wide and caromed off of the boards and back towards the center line. Martin raced down the floor to collect the loose ball and buried it in the empty net with two-tenths of a second left on the clock.
The goal electrified the sold out crowd, created the momentum that continued an eight-goal Stealth run and the rest, as they say, is history.
To Stealth General Manager Doug Locker, it was no surprise that Eric Martin was the man behind that play.
“Eric has an incredible knack for doing big things at big times,” said Locker.
The loose ball that Martin grabbed just prior to the empty net goal was just one of 885 loose balls he’s collected in his career, and it will go down as one of the greatest plays in Stealth history.
Last weekend against the Minnesota Swarm, Martin grabbed six loose balls, surpassing Cam Woods as the Stealth’s All-Time regular season loose balls leader with 802. His 83 playoff loose balls, eleven of which came in that 2010 Championship Game, are also tops in Stealth history.
It’s another piece to a fantastic lacrosse resume the 30-year old has built so far. Martin is one of the unique characters of the lacrosse world, and his journey to NLL stardom has been equally unique. But whether it’s field lacrosse or box, college ball or pro, one thing has always been a constant in the play of Eric Martin: he plays with an adge.
The Norfolk, Va. native was drafted twelfth overall by the Stealth in the 2004 NLL Entry Draft. He starred at NCAA Division III powerhouse Salisbury State University in Maryland, winning a pair of National Championships, two Defensive Player of the Year awards and the National Player of the Year award his senior season.
Division III players don’t typically get the same exposure as their Division I counterparts, but with accolades like Martin’s, it was difficult for the Stealth to ignore.
“Eric would have been a standout at the Division I level,” said Locker, who was a Division III lacrosse head coach prior to joining the Stealth. “He was a tremendous athlete with a good mind for the game and the temperament that translates to the indoor game. He played with an edge and with confidence.”
That edge Locker noticed has led Martin to championships at every level and a standing as one of the top American-born defenders to ever play in the NLL.
“I always played with a chip, with something to prove,” said Martin, who has an international gold medal to go along with his NCAA and NLL championships. “I realized in indoor the best defenders were heart and soul guys that will do whatever it takes to win. Whether it’s a fight or whatever, just playing with intensity for the betterment of the team.”
As you would expect for a lifetime field lacrosse player that had never even seen a box lacrosse game, there was a learning curve in making the transition to the indoor game. But luckily for Martin, he was coming to a team that had a wealth of All-Star defensemen, including the last two NLL Defensemen of the Year in Jim Moss and Cam Woods.
“I don’t think on any other team I would have played,” Martin joked. “But any time I screwed up it didn’t matter because those guys had my back. They really helped me along; I just went out there and tried to copy what they were doing.”
As he continued to learn the finer points of playing in the NLL, Martin focused on the skill that has him entrenched in the Stealth record books: the art of the loose ball.
“It was tough getting used to a short stick,” he said. “I figured I may not have the best stick, but I’m going to outwork everyone and be the first to the ball. I always liked having the ball, might as well get it off the ground.”
Since then, Martin has developed a lot more to his game than just grabbing loose balls. On the defensive end, he’ll stop the opposition’s top offensive threat. He’ll push the ball in transition and is always a threat to score a timely goal on the fast break. He has 24 goals and 75 assists for 99 points in 105 regular season games in his career.
“Eric is an all-around threat for us,” said Stealth Head Coach Chris Hall, who started coaching Martin in 2009. “He makes big plays and scores big goals and makes life difficult for opposing forwards. Guys like that win championships.”
Obviously, the Stealth brass is well aware of everything Martin brings on the floor. It’s part of the reason he’s spent his entire career with the team, and part of the reason why the team hopes he’s around for a while longer.
“He’s a special player, athlete and person,” said Locker, who has been with Martin since the start of the defenseman’s professional career seven years ago. “It’s hard to imagine the Stealth without Eric Martin.”
Hall clearly holds Martin’s lacrosse skills in high regard. But equally as valuable to the team is his personality and what he does for the team’s chemistry.
“Eric brings a refreshing perspective to the locker room, practice and film sessions,” said Hall. “Everyone enjoys his personality and humor. It’s great for a locker room to have someone that can keep things light and fun, but knows when to get down to business on the floor.
“He has a great sense of what’s going on around him,” Hall added. “Not much gets by Eric Martin.”
Whether it’s the opportunity for a wisecrack, an opposing forward or a loose ball, that last statement describes Eric Martin to a T.
Eric Martin is all over this highlight. Big hits, loose balls and the goal described in this article at the 6:15 mark. One of the biggest and best plays in Stealth history.
A little old, but a great illustration of the edge with which Eric Martin plays every single shift. He's a guy you love to have on your team, but you hate to play against.