Photo credit: Garrett James Photography
By Sheldon Lee
For the Penticton Vees, it was yet another spectacular season. The club ended this year’s condensed schedule with the highest point total in the BCHL, finishing an almost-perfect season with 37 of a possible 40 points over 20 games.
In those 20 games, the Vees only surrendered a total of 23 goals, which speaks volumes about how the team’s backend has been constructed.
One player that played a major role on that blueline was 6-foot-7 Ethan Martini, a stalwart defenceman who just finished his final season in the BCHL.
After five years in the league and over 200 games played, Martini feels fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to finish his junior career in Penticton and knows he was part of a pretty special group, playing under Vees head coach and general manager Fred Harbinson.
“Fred always does a really good job of assembling some stacked teams,” said Martini. “Because of COVID, we haven’t been able to really get out and do the sort of team bonding that we were used to. We were pretty lucky these last couple of years. We just seemed to gel really fast, so I’d have to attribute a lot of our success to that.”
Martini’s five years in the league saw him suit up for three different club – his hometown Trail Smoke Eaters, the Powell River Kings and, of course, the Vees. They are three destinations in three vastly different parts of the province, but he didn’t seem to have much difficulty adjusting to his new surroundings.
“I always said Powell River and Trail are very similar,” said Martini. “One is just set on the ocean. They each had the small-town vibe and the communities love their hockey team, so there was really no transition problem there. It’s very cool to see the difference from the Island to the Interior. Moving to Penticton and getting a taste of the Okanogan was something else. A lot less rain, lots of hot days. It’s a gorgeous spot.”
Every BCHLer has different stories. Everyone has different successes, different struggles, different injuries. Some players make the playoffs some don’t. Some win it all and some never do. In five years, anyone could accumulate a lifetime of memories, but one moment stands out above the rest for Martini.
“It has to be [former Vees defenceman] Carson Kosobud pushing us to the second round last season,” he said. “We were up 3-1 in the series and felt like West Kelowna had stolen a game from us in game three and, when we got back to Penticton, they nearly stole another. We were down late in the game before tying it to push it into overtime and then Kosobud scored that goal. It was amazing how excited we were and how there was absolutely no quit in that group.”
Martini’s size is an asset. Often with bigger guys the learning curve is a little different. After putting up 211 penalty minutes in his first two years in the league, there has been a noticeable dip in that category the last few years. It’s something he attributes to maturity, as well as some help from a Penticton coach.
“I came into the league at 16-17 years old and, of course there’s going to be some growing pains, but over the years I learned that there is a line you have to play on,” said Martini. “I really owe this to Fred Harbinson. He really helped me with this in my two years in Penticton. He taught me that you can play with and edge, but you can play it cleanly and you can play it honestly.”
With that type of commitment and attention to detail, Martini will surely excel in his next endeavor. The Vees defender landed himself a scholarship at Long Island University where he’ll further hone is game with the Sharks. Unsurprisingly, he’s going in with fire in his belly.
“I’m staying hungry,” said Martini. “I’m going down there with a chip on my shoulder and something to prove. It did take me five years to earn that scholarship. I worked very hard for it and I want to prove to the team that took a chance on me that I’m ready. The road is really just starting. I’m getting a good summer in skating and training back in Penticton and I’m going down there with a point to prove.”
All that’s left now is the wait. From Trail to Powell River to Penticton and, on Aug. 29, the next stop is New York. An incredible journey that, according to Martini, has only just begun.