Martin happy to be back in familiar place with Senators
OTTAWA — History has a strange way of repeating itself sometimes.
The first time Jacques Martin stepped behind the Senators bench just over 27 years ago, he faced the Pittsburgh Penguins — the same opponent Ottawa plays Saturday night in his first home game as the newly appointed head coach.
Martin was named Ottawa’s interim head coach while the team was on the road earlier this week, replacing D.J. Smith.
The 71-year-old Martin makes his return to the nation's capital as the bench boss with his team mired in a six-game losing streak.
Martin laughed when reminded of his first foray behind the Senators bench, a 4-2 loss to the Penguins on Jan. 24, 1996, and hoped the result would be different this time around.
It's a familiar opponent for Martin. He spent seven years in the Penguins organization from 2013 to 2020 and won two Stanley Cups.
Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan has great respect for his coaching counterpart and has no doubt the Senators will be prepared despite their recent struggles.
“He was invaluable to me in our time together here in Pittsburgh and helping us win two Stanley Cups,” said Sullivan. “He’s just a great voice of reason. He’s an astute hockey guy. He’s evolved with the game. His work ethic is terrific. He brings a level of professionalism and organizational skills that I think will be felt immediately. I can’t say enough about him.”
Martin has no illusions that he can just flip a switch and turn things around for the Senators, but he does feel confident in his group's ability.
“Obviously, we still have lots of work to do but I think it’s one step at a time,” Martin said.
Getting a second chance with the same organization hasn’t been lost on him, but he wants people to remember this is a different situation.
“What I like about this challenge is that to me it’s not about my first time here,” he said. “It’s about this is a new team. To me, it’s about making sure that this team has an opportunity to make history.”
Martin feels he has lots of experience to provide to this young group thanks to his numerous stops around the NHL, but says it will take time.
The Senators have games nearly every other day for the next month, leaving Martin with little practice time at his disposal. He says he'll use video to help instil his changes.
Asked if his office had changed, Martin was happy to report that the high-quality video room was still intact.
Ottawa is home to Martin. His two grown daughters and four grandchildren are here and he grew up just outside the city. He has many fond memories from his time in Ottawa and there’s a comfort in being somewhere familiar.
“I think it’s a nice feeling to come back here,” he said. “I think it’s a nice challenge because I think this team has some great kids who have some great talent. I think we’ve just got to try and give them a little bit more structure, more direction and I think the results will take care of itself.”
The Senators are looking to close out the holiday break on a positive note after a difficult road trip where they lost all five games, and are hopeful to feed off the energy in the building.
“There’s lessons to be learned on that trip and now you’ve got (Pittsburgh) that’s been unreal for the last bunch of years coming on so we’ve got to be ready for that and I think we are,” said Senators captain Brady Tkachuk. “It’s just going to be a fun atmosphere and it’s a perfect opportunity for us to find a way and get a greasy win.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 23, 2023.