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Leading the way

Heading into their first Islanders Mini-Camp, development camp veterans Matt Martin and Rhett Rakhshani were overwhelmingly nervous

Tuesday, 07.12.2011 / 10:37 AM ET / News
By Dyan LeBourdais
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Leading the way
Four years ago, fresh from Junior with the Sarnia Sting, Matt Martin was about to embark on his first Islanders Mini-Camp. When he arrived on Long Island, he was full of nerves due to his own false assumptions. He thought the purpose of camp was to make a name for himself and gain an extra edge over the other prospects, but in reality, that was much different from what Islanders management and the coaching staff truly intended.

In hindsight, Martin realizes this and offers this advice:

“I want to make sure these 18-year-old guys don’t think they have to make the team out of camp,” Martin said. “They really just have to come down here, get a feel for Long Island and a feel for the team.”

Islanders forward Matt Martin mentoring some of the prospects at 2011 Mini Camp on Tuesday, July 12, 2011.
Drafted in the fourth round of the 2006 Entry Draft, Sound Tigers forward Rhett Rakhshani is no newbie. This year marks his fifth Mini-Camp and like Martin, he offered a bit of advice:

“Just have fun and work hard. Definitely try to impress, but at the same time, it’s important to have fun and not put too much pressure on yourself. Everyone is in the same boat. There are a lot of new faces and a lot of familiar faces, so if we just go out and have fun, it will make the week a lot more enjoyable.”

When Martin arrived for his first camp, he was a wide-eyed 18-year-old who made himself overly anxious for camp.

“I was just so nervous, but you have to get by those nerves,” Martin said about his first camp. “When you’re so nervous to make mistakes, you grip the stick too tight, pucks bounce everywhere and you’re not really having fun with the game anymore. When you’re not having fun, you’re not going to play well. That was really the toughest part.”

Since Martin was about 15-years-old, he’s brought a physical presence to his game, which helped catapult his career into the NHL. But prior to his first trip to New York from Windsor, ON, he made sure to ask about the scrimmage and what would be expected of his game.

Islanders prospect Rhett Rakhshani skates in a game for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers during the 2010-11 season.
“I remember being a little unsure of how the scrimmages went because I wanted to make sure I had the right mindset going in,” Martin said. “The style of game I play, if you’re not ready for something, you can get seriously hurt. I just wanted to make sure I knew exactly what was going on in the scrimmages so that I was prepared (and wouldn’t hurt myself or my teammates).”

That’s where the older guys step in. As unofficial captains, they lead by example in both on-ice and off-ice workouts, but also offer an ear for the younger players who may feel a bit intimidated.

With so many questions his first year, Martin feels for the young players coming in, like Ryan Strome and Scott Mayfield, who were the Islanders first and second round selections at this year’s Entry Draft in Minnesota.

“I want to get to know some of the new draft picks and make them feel comfortable like the guys that made me feel comfortable my first camp,” Martin said. “I’m sure these guys are really nervous like I was and I just want to make them feel at home.”

He continued, “There are a lot of fun events set up for this week. We’re going to the Mets game, we’re going fishing and we have a beach day. It’s just another learning experience for all of us. The guys are going to have a lot of fun this week.”

Rakhshani was another one of those guys who said he really benefitted from the presence of all the older players, saying that when he arrived six years ago, Dustin Kohn, Jeremy Colliton and Jeff Tambellini really helped him out.

“I’m just going to do my best to make everyone feel comfortable by reaching out to them,” Rakhshani said. “As an older guy… I want to be a resource for them if they have anything they want to talk about or if they have questions, but really just make everyone feel welcome.”

Now that these camp veterans have mastered their nerves, they look at this week as reunion of sorts.

“At this point, my favorite part is just being back with all your teammates you played with last year and having a good time, but also getting on the ice a little bit,” Rakhshani said. “No one has skated too much yet so it is fun to get back on the ice a little bit more. We do a lot of fun activities and it is fun to do that with all your buddies.”

No matter what, Martin will always remember his first camp.

“My first camp was awesome,” Martin said. “I made some great friendships at camp with Josh Bailey, Calvin de Haan, David Ullstrom, Kevin Poulin, all these players I was drafted with. You build a great relationship with them through this camp. It’s a bond I’ll have forever.”

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