Oddly enough, the highlight of David Martinson’s hockey career thus far came not on the rink, but on a basketball court.
This past spring, the Gustavus Adolphus star forward was playing pick-up ball with two of his teammates, Mitch Carlson and Josh Swartout, when each got a text message from Gusties’ hockey coach Brett Peterson, asking them to come to his office.
Carlson, who like Martinson and Swartout is from St. Louis Park, figured the meeting must be about a new recruit from their hometown. Martinson assumed it had to do with tying up loose ends from the Gusties’ recently completed season. He was correct, but the devil was in the details.
As the players entered his office, Peterson grinned and handed the three friends a single sheet of paper. On it, Martinson was listed as a first-team Division III West All-American. Swartout and Carlson were named second team choices.
“We were all pumped that we had gotten it,” said Martinson, who then was then given another sheet of paper. The second had even bigger news.
Martinson had been named the winner of the Sid Watson Award, given annually to the nation's best Division III player.
“I knew I had been nominated for it a couple of weeks before, but I figured they were going to give it to an East coast player,” said a shocked Martinson. “(Coach) was pretty emotional with all the success we had. It was a cool moment that I got to share it with all those guys.”
Peterson had reason to be excited for his St. Louis Park connection. The former Orioles have certainly been good for the program. The trio teamed up to help the Gusties win their first regular season Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title since 1993 (12-2-2, 20-7-2 overall) and advance to the NCAA quarterfinals.
Martinson, a 6-foot, 190-pound senior, was the team’s sniper, netting 29 goals in 29 games and earning MIAC Player of the Year honors. He finished his three-year Gustavus career with 76 goals and 55 assists in 85 games.
Martinson’s 0.89 goals per game is the third-best average in school history, while his 1.54 points per game is fourth all-time.
“He’s not a flashy guy, but he knows how to score,” Carlson said. “He’s very talented at putting the puck in the net. He’s a lead by example type of player.”
Carlson, a 6-foot, 200-pound junior defenseman, recorded a plus-13 rating with four goals and 10 assists. He was originally committed to attend Division I Minnesota State after graduating from St. Louis Park in 2006, but decided he was more interested in Gustavus. Carlson is a fourth generation Gustie, following his father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
“I never looked back at the decision I made,” said Carlson, who played four years of high school hockey at St. Louis Park – the first two with Martinson and the final two with Swartout. “It’s been a fun ride.”
Swartout, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior goaltender, started 26 games (19-4-2) with a 2.09 goals against average and .910 save percentage. He was also a 2006 graduate of St. Louis Park.
“He’s grown a lot as a player,” said Carlson of Swartout. “His consistency dramatically improved. He’s one of those guys that jokes around in the locker room and has a good time, but when you get to the rink, he’s competitive.”
Martinson is the eldest of the trio and had the most indirect route to Gusties’ hockey glory. He played four years of high school hockey at St. Louis Park and was set to join the Air Force Academy after graduation in 2004. But the Falcons’ coaching staff recommended Martinson play juniors first. He dutifully did so, spending one year at Central Texas of the North American Hockey League and another with the New England Huskies (NAHL) before finally joining the Air Force program in 2006.
But it quickly became apparent the school was not the right fit. Martinson admitted to missing his family and friends back in his home state. He knew that four years at Air Force and the five-year post-college commitment would be more than he could handle.
After one season, Martinson decided to come home. He looked at both Gustavus and St. Thomas, eventually choosing the Gusties.
“I didn’t really have any expectations going in,” said Martinson. “I just wanted to go to a school closer to home.”
On his first day in the Gusties’ home rink, Martinson noted all the championship banners hanging from the rafters, although the most recent was from 1993. With his new teammates, Martinson made a vow to hang another before his career was finished. His proudest moment is not the individual honors, but what they meant about the program and its place in history.
“We were able to take our team that hadn’t won anything in so long, and take it up not only to the top of the MIAC, but to a national level, too,” said Martinson. “Three or four years ago, nobody would have thought a Gustavus (player) would have won player of the year. For me, that I got that, it was more of a team announcement of how far we had taken our stature.”