BRIDGEPORT — Sitting in the stands at the Wonderland of Ice rink, while Fairfield Prep coach Matt Sather worked with his team, Kevin Martin made an observation.
“You know I’ve never watched a practice,” he said, keeping his eyes on one side of the ice.
Why would he? Martin hasn’t played for Fairfield Prep since 1981 and while he practiced a lot for then coach Marty Roos, getting to watch this practice was a little different.
Standing in one of the nets was his son, starting goalie Tommy Martin.
In his first season as the top netminder, Tommy is 4-1-0 with a .965 save percentage and a 0.80 goals against average. He also recorded three straight shutouts at one point.
“He is so focused,” Kevin said. “It’s not just about stopping the puck.”
About 200 feet away across from where Tommy is in net, a banner hangs over the ice displaying the 18 state championships – 17 in Division I – Fairfield Prep has won.
Kevin looks at the banner, specifically the years that read 1979, 1980 and 1981.
Those three years were the first Division I state titles in Fairfield Prep history. It was the only time the program has won three straight titles and Kevin Martin was in net for each of them.
“I remember how much fun that was,” Kevin said. “It was just a great time.”
Kevin became the starting goalie early in his freshman season and never gave the net up.
“He was a force in the locker room and on the ice,” Roos said. “He made the team believe that we were not going to lose.”
Kevin led the Jesuits to four straight Division I state title appearances and was named to the New Haven Register All-State team twice.
“(The Fairfield Prep) foundation was built during Kevin’s time,” said Tom Chiappetta, a former Bridgeport Telegram reporter, who covered the rise of the Jesuits after Roos started the program in 1972. “I’m not sure what the history of Prep would be without a Kevin Martin in it.”
Now, 40 years since the 1981 championship season, Kevin is watching his son man the crease for the Jesuits.
“He has been wearing (Fairfield) Prep gear since Prep’s onesies,” Kevin said with a laugh.
“He came to every alumni game, every championship game,” Kevin added. “We went to (Madison Square) Garden and he’s wearing his Prep hat waving to (Chris) Drury.”
So, when it came time to choose where Tommy wanted to go to high school, the decision was easy.
“I am really living my dream right now,” Tommy said. “Starting as Prep goalie just like my dad. I think it’s really cool. He’s like the start of it all and then I come back and it’s like living a legacy.”
While Tommy has heard stories about his dad’s play from his uncles, Frank and Chris, who played with his father, it wasn’t until recently that he truly understood the impact his dad had on the program.
“He brought out the old newspapers,” Tommy said. “I actually saw it right in front of my face, it was cool.
“Looking back at the old pictures too, it looked like Slap Shot,” he added.
Tommy said the two of them don’t compare their stats or analyze his games when they are home.
“He’s just proud of what I am doing right now and that is all he cares about,” Tommy said.
For Kevin, he learned when Tommy got to high school, he was in good hands.
“The position has completely changed,” Kevin said. “I can’t teach him anything that he is doing different or better.”
When Tommy made 29 saves in a shutout win against Darien earlier this season, Sather told his goalie: “That is one of the best games I have seen a Prep goalie play in 20-something years. You can’t do it any better.”
That performance and quote is something that the Martin’s did discuss at home.
“I got home and was like you hear what Coach Sather said?” Tommy said with a laugh.
“He never saw me play a game like that,” Kevin said of Tommy’s performance against Darien. “It was a different game back then.”
Tommy began his hockey career at the Greenwich Skating Club and his father, who was the coach, didn’t want him to play goalie. That only lasted two years.
“He always wanted to be a goalie, I fought it off for a long time,” Kevin said. “Well, I didn’t fight it off that long, I fought it off until second year of mites and then I lost.”
When Tommy arrived at Fairfield Prep it didn’t look like he would ever become the starter.
“What we saw right away he was extremely athletic and quick, especially his feet and he had soft hands,” Sather said. “But he was weak and really out of shape when he came in as a freshman.”
As a sophomore, he was the fourth goalie on the depth chart on the junior varsity team.
Tommy worked hard, taking lessons with former NHL goalie Steve Valiquette and changed his diet.
By the end of that season, he worked his way atop the depth chart of the JV team and was added to the varsity roster for the state championship run in 2019.
As a junior, he backed up GameTimeCT/New Haven Register All-State goalie Andrew Stietzel and earned the starting job this year.
“The surprise was the jump from sophomore to junior year,” Sather said. “It’s nice when you see a kid who really makes that investment, and it pays off for him.”
Tommy is the latest Fairfield Prep goalie to take his game to the next level. In each of the past three seasons the Jesuits have had an All-State goalie – Stietzel in 2020, Jake Walker in 2019 (second team) and Jack McGee (first team) in 2018.
“I always had faith in him,” Kevin said. “I knew he had it in him.”