- Scott Burnside, NHL
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SOCHI, Russia -- We often toss around the idea of dreams being realized or shattered, and sometimes the terms lose their meaning.
But for some, the idea is more than ethereal, it is flesh and blood, and "joy" and "despair" are more than just words to be tossed about.
Just ask U.S. defenseman Paul Martin.
Early in the 2009-10 season, Martin, then playing for the New Jersey Devils, blocked a shot from Pittsburgh's Bill Guerin that fractured his forearm. At the time, Martin was a lock to make the U.S. team that was going to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. But the bone didn't heal properly, and agonizingly Martin had to be replaced in the U.S. lineup that would go on to earn a silver medal, losing to Canada in overtime in the gold-medal game.
This season Martin was once again a lock to make the team, the U.S. selection committee penciling him into the lineup pretty much from the get-go. Then, on Nov. 25, early in the third period of a game against the Boston Bruins, Martin took a shot just above the skate.
"I really didn't even think anything of it. It didn't feel good for the rest of the game. Pretty painful. But I just thought it was a bruise, it got me in the right spot, right above the skate," Martin said in an interview Tuesday, after the Americans finished their second on-ice workout since arriving in Sochi.
"Thinking back to last year when I stress-fractured my [tibia] in the same foot, it was similar and I wasn't even thinking about that. I think I didn't want to think it was broken or anything bad was happening. But I couldn't really walk on it the next day then the MRI revealed that there was as stress fracture.
"For me I think there was enough time, I was [thinking], 'All right, we've got to stay positive, you can't get down yet.' In the back of my mind there definitely was, 'All right, here we go. Again.'"
It's a story that could have turned out to be about the cruelty of fate. Instead, it turned out to about the power of perseverance and patience and maybe about fate balancing the scales.
"Getting to know Paul, I know how big of a disappointment that was for him career-wise and something he was motivated by for a long time not just coming into this year, as a big motivation for him trying to overcome that disappointment, putting himself in a position to possibly be a part of a 2014 team," said U.S. coach Dan Bylsma, who also happens to be Martin's coach with the Penguins.
"And then for Paul this year when he hurt himself, I think you could see it run through his mind again that it could possibly mean the disappointment of not being a part of this team as well.
"It was an initial disappointment for him, but he worked hard to get back and really had that in mind as he got back to playing."
Martin -- who was also named to the 2006 Olympic team as an injury replacement, meaning he didn't suit up or even practice with the main U.S. team -- missed just shy of two months rehabbing his broken leg. He was still on the mend when the U.S. team was announced after the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Jan. 1.
"It was definitely some mixed emotions," said Martin, who returned to the ice for Pittsburgh on Jan. 20. "I wanted to get upset about it, but I think the majority of me was just trying to stay positive, and saying you've still got time, there's no reason, you can only control so much and hopefully it heals fast. The doctors were really optimistic. So I took that approach, too."
While he felt he'd played well enough the past couple of seasons to earn a spot on the '14 squad, there were nonetheless nervous moments as the team was announced on national television.
"I was confident I would be there. But until the day of, I still was getting nervous and butterflies. Because you never know," he admitted. "I still got a little nervous that day, but when I definitely saw the jersey [with Martin on the back], it was pretty special. I got a little emotional, a little choked up. Just to get that opportunity still for me was amazing."
Martin plays most of the time in Pittsburgh with fellow U.S. Olympian Brooks Orpik. The two are rooming together in Sochi and in the days leading up to the Olympic break, Martin relied on Orpik for information on how to get ready for the Olympic experience.
"You can just see he's having a ton of fun with it," Orpik said. "We were trying to stay focused on our season there in Pittsburgh and he was always asking me questions every day leading up to it, just little stuff, like what to pack. I could tell he was pretty excited for it.
"It'll be fun to watch him enjoy the experience."
After two close calls, Paul Martin is finally getting his chance to play for Team USA in the Olympics.